Tower Heist (2011) Review (PG-13) With Some Spoilers
Tower Heist is one of those mainstream light comedies that have a lot of ‘name’ actors (Stiller, Murphy, Affleck, Broderick, Pena, Leoni, Hirsch, Alda, etc..). They usually are fairly bland, though, where trying to give every single person their screen time takes precedence instead of telling the story. That’s kind of true here. It IS watered down with maybe too many characters and half hearted subplots, but I was (eventually) entertained. I hate to use the backhanded compliment “It wasn’t terrible”, but I think it fits here. There aren’t any real BIG laughs. There’s plenty of chuckles, though, and its latter half is much stronger than the beginning. Tower Heist is directed by Brett Ratner. In my opinion he has a large number of mediocre films (Red Dragon, the Rush Hour Series) to just terrible films (X-Men:The Last Stand, The Family Man) on his resume. I think I liked this more than any of his other films I’ve seen.
The story revolves around a large number of people who are cheated out of their pensions in a scheme that is easily recognizable from ‘Ponzi’ schemes that have been all over the news in recent years. They only stopped short here of calling Alan Alda’s ‘Arthur Shaw’ character ‘Bernie’. Ben Stiller plays Josh, the general manager of a building that features maybe the most upscale living space in New York City. It’s very Trump Tower-like and the Donald even let them film his own properties to create the look of the interior and exteriors. Josh is the one that had asked Shaw to handle the pension accounts and feels responsible when it comes to light that Shaw has stolen the pensions of his staff (and his own).
Shaw is put under house arrest (by the FBI) in the tower’s penthouse while he awaits trial. The problem is that he only had $600 in his checking account. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars have all but disappeared. The staff of the hotel are ‘small fry’ in the entire scheme and Josh is told they probably won’t be getting their money back. He gets so angry that he goes to confront Shaw with two other employees in tow (Casey Affleck and Michael Pena). He gets fired after the incident (and so do the others).
This is where Josh decides to make things right and take matters into his own hands. He enlists the aid of several of the staff employees, past and present. He also convinces a man (Matthew Broderick) who has lost family, fortune, and his apartment in the tower. The trouble is none of them have ever done anything to break the law, so Stiller enlists the aid of a local small time criminal named Slide (played by Eddie Murphy). Slide agrees to help when he hears how much they THINK they’re planning on stealing. He puts them through a few ‘Dodgeball’ like training exercises, only much more serious and less funny.
All of this was sort of uninteresting to this point. The film had the same problem I have sometimes when I draw. I get caught in between deciding drawing ‘realistic’ and ‘cartoony’. I think the film needed to be a lot more cartoonish. It was semi-serious at times and that doesn’t work in a film like this, especially when you start ignoring reality like they do here. There were many instances that were not so much unlikely as just “there is NO WAY that would happen”. There are several instances where the movie just skips over logistics. Ratner also doesn’t know what to show onscreen at times.
And here is where I am going to start a new feature. It’s called: Hollywood. I Can Fix Your Film. QUASI-SPOILERS BEGIN HERE: Okay, Josh goes at Shaw’s prize car, that was once owned by Steve McQueen (so he says). Later, he has an unnecessary meeting with Tea Leoni’s FBI character. Later, she shows up at his house with police officers to bring him back to apologize for the earlier incident at Shaw’s penthouse or go to jail. Instead of another 15-20 minutes of unnecessary scenes that advanced NOTHING, they could have killed at least two birds with one stone. They should have combined the two scenes (maybe even three scenes) and had the face off/apology in the vandalism scene. The scenes in between serve no purpose. Leoni’s character just restates that they’ve all lost their money. She’s not even a love interest, so why have them having drinks to be redundant? You also have the other two characters standing there during the vandalism for a very lazy way of getting them fired (when one of them gets his job back immediately, anyway… more wasted time. And they only have him re-hired to drum up some faux tension between he and Stiller). Anyway, they LATER make a discovery about Shaw’s car that SHOULD have been discovered in the vandalism scene. That could have been the purpose for one of the other characters being there, It would also give them an impetus for the heist in the first place, As it is, the reason that the ‘heist’ is planned is that Stiller’s character thinks that Shaw has money in a hidden wall safe. So the heist is planned on a hunch. Had Affleck or Pena made the discovery of the secret of the car, it would not only streamline the movie into a faster film, but it would have given them a REAL reason to attempt the heist rather than hoping something may be in the penthouse somewhere.
Another subplot involved the fact that after ‘finding a guy that’s done this sort of thing before’ they find out that he’sonly a small time thief and that they need ‘a guy that’s done this sort of thing before’… They need a safecracker… even though, they don’t know if there’s a safe or not… See why I think making the car discovery in the vandalism scene rather than when they’re actually doing the heist would make more sense? No?…So, conveniently a very rotund, Jamaican for some reason, maid on the staff named Odessa (played by Gabourey Sidibe) happens to have cracked safes. Somehow I was finding it hard to imagine the star of ‘Precious’ slipping through windows as an expert safe busting cat burglar. Why not just let Murphy be the safe cracker? That was another unnecessary ‘development’. It was obvious (and its in the trailer) that Odessa would make a pass or two at Slide. That’s actually the main reason she’s there, so that Ratner can go “Hey, isn’t this funny? She’s overweight and she thinks she’s very sexy and she’s hitting on Eddie Murphy. Isn’t that funny?”…. Is it? SPOILERS END HERE.
Okay, back to the story. All of that was just setup to the heist. I’m not giving anything away. They do a shorthand of all of that in the trailer (plus they throw in some SPOILERS of their own). You can kind of work out everything that’s going to occur, anyway. It’s fairly predictable. BUT… Once the heist gets going, things pick up a LOT. In fact, I think one particular sequence in the film saves it. I am not fond of heights to put it mildly and I have never been as uncomfortable watching a film as I did this one during ‘the heist’. The part that involves Matthew Broderick’s character and heights is by far the best part of the film. I don’t think I can recall a film that more believably gave the perspective of the danger involved with an untethered person on the outside of the top levels of a skyscraper. I got very queasy. I was hoping they would get on with things and the sequence kind of kept going, but I’m not complaining. I enjoyed that the film had that effect on me. This was another sequence that seemed far more real than the rest. I said they should have been more cartoonish earlier, but had they had this degree of reality, I think I would have liked it even more. There are still a lot of story developments that were not plausible. It had a high degree of product placement… Toys R’ Us. Burger King. Victoria’s Secret. Playboy. The Gap. Macy’s. The whole thing was one long advertisement for New York…. It had a typically Hollywood ending (with maybe one minor surprise or two). I still liked it, though.
If you like these mainstream semi-comedies that have obvious messages or if you’re a fan of one of the actors involved, you might like it as much as I did. I didn’t feel like I wasted my money, if that’s any kind of praise for the film.