Friday, November 4, 2011
Movie review: Tower Heist
This holiday-themed crowd-pleaser certainly has its ups and downs.
Tower Heist is a genuinely amusing and generally inoffensive formula entertainment that only occasionally disappoints due to predictable turns of events and implausible character transformations.
Director Brett Ratner's latest offering will likely benefit from its holiday tie-in (the climactic heist scene takes place with Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a backdrop) and its sympathy for the downtrodden masses, in terms of the 1% vs. 99% dynamic so prevalent in the current national dialog. Most importantly, the film is sure to be a crowd-pleaser thanks to its incorporation of a role worthy of the sharp-witted talents of Eddie Murphy, who plays a street-smart petty criminal named Slide.
The impressive ensemble cast is led by Ben Stiller as Josh Kovacs, building manager of a posh Manhattan residential high-rise (The Tower) whose penthouse suite is home to a Madoff-like investment strategist named Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). Shaw, not one to hide his prodigious prosperity under a bushel, has a mammoth-sized $100 bill emblazoned on the bottom of his rooftop swimming pool.
Before he's indicted on federal embezzlement charges, Shaw behaves quite courteously toward Kovacs; he even relates to Josh on a personal level, engaging him in online chess matches. But after FBI agents show up to arrest him, his mask of gentility slips, and Shaw's true blue blood colors are revealed for Kovacs and his working class staff to see.
(They are, after all, mere underlings employed to keep him happy and comfortable — little more than servants, in Shaw's view.)
Here's the kicker: Kovacs, without consulting with his workforce, has placed the pension funds of the building's entire staff under Shaw's management. Their nest eggs, along with billions of dollars contributed by others, have now vanished into thin air.
Well, not entirely vanished, it turns out. Drawing on building records, Kovacs intuits the probable hiding place of Shaw's getaway fund and determines to steal it before the white collar crook can be released from federal custody. To do so, he enlists the aid of several co-workers — plus the supposed criminal expertise of his tough-talking Yonkers neighbor, Slide.
There follows a quite funny episode in which Slide acts as a sort of criminal mastermind Miyagi to Kovacs and his partners in high-stakes crime. He initiates them with a petty larceny exercise in a shopping mall, and advances their training to lockpicking: They'll have to open the rooftop stairwell door of his apartment building with a bobby pin in order to escape the freezing chill, while he amuses himself with his girlfriend in the steam-heated comfort of its interior.
Unsurprisingly, Slide's rudimentary criminal talents do not include a proficiency at safecracking, thus necessitating the recruitment of another Tower employee, Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). She joins Kovacs, front desk concierge Charley (Casey Affleck), elevator operator Enrique (Michael Peña), and recently evicted tenant Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), who will each have a role to play in the assault on Shaw's seemingly impregnable penthouse domain.
Their heist doesn't go quite according to plan, primarily because Shaw's liquid assets turn out to be not as liquid as anticipated...
Tower Heist certainly has its ups and downs, both in the literal sense (with elevators and hoists playing a key role) and figuratively, in terms of credulity: Only so much suspension of disbelief can be managed, for instance, in regard to Slide's sudden transformation to a suave, sophisticated con man in the film's climactic scene.
(And just how heavy an added load will that elevator counterweight account for? An extra ton or so seems to make little difference. But — hey — it's only a movie, right?)
Téa Leoni plays in mildly sexy support as Denham, the lead FBI agent on the case, who exhibits grudging romantic interest in Kovacs after he shows some backbone by going ballistic with a golf club on Shaw's treasured 1963 Ferrari convertible; and Stephen Henderson lands the most sympathetic role in the piece, as a humble doorman named Lester who stands to lose more than anyone else from the disappearance of his hard-earned savings.
While the "big reveal" of the ending will surprise few, getting there should prove delightful to most; I left the theater with a smile on my face, and a sense of anticipation for a drowsy Thanksgiving morning in front of the TV watching Snoopy and his helium-inflated friends floating along Fifth Avenue, with the savory smell of turkey and dressing wafting from the kitchen stove.
It's all about the little things — especially for us 99-percenters.
To find movie showtimes for Tower Heist, click here.