Hey-ho, another day, another Ben Stiller movie. Or is it? Yes, it is – but this one’s actually quite a lot of fun. If you long for the days gone by when a film did pretty much what was advertised on the poster (The Towering Inferno (1974), Jaws (1975)) and provided a near-regulation hour-and-a-half plus of comedy, adventure and very little else to trouble the soul, Tower Heist may well be just the ticket.
Forgive Stiller his previous form. Yeah, Zoolander (2001) was OK, but I really didn’t like Tropic Thunder (2008) and the less said about Starsky & Hutch (2004), the better. Forgive Eddie Murphy his frankly embarrassing and shameful career of the past ten years (with the exception of voicing Donkey in the Shrek franchise) – the pair are right back on form with this somwhat under-rated gem of a caper movie.
Before the Picturenose postbag (remember those?) begins to fill up with complaints like ‘it was crap’, ‘waste of time’ and the inevitable ‘you suck’, allow me to explain a little. For me, Tower Heist is a romp – nothing more, nothing less. It won’t teach you the meaning of life, it won’t patch up your relationship but if you want a bit of fun with little or no depth, you could do an awful lot worse (Meet the Fokkers (2004) or Norbit (2007), anyone?) I truly believe that, for Murphy at least, this represents the sort of thing he should have stuck to throughout his career.
He plays a slick, shady, fast-talking ghetto dude – right back where he belongs, making with the funny. Matthew Broderick is in it, and Ferris Bueller he ain’t. He’s cast as a bumbling, nervous would-be criminal, which he carries off without too much difficulty and it’s good to see Alan Alda is still getting work as the Bernie Madoff-style white-collar criminal. All in all, a solid enough cast and a resonable story to carry it. You may now begin the abuse if you still want to.
Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the manager of a residential apartment block in New York. A very, very exclusive residence for big players and high rollers only. He’s on good terms with all the residents and looks after their every need, with the help of his team of staff. One of the residents he is closest to, Arthur Shaw (Alda) appears to be the very essence of tasteful wealth – except, perhaps, for the Ferrari in the middle of his living room. Why it is there and what it represents become clearer as the film progresses.
One day, the Feds arrive and haul Madoff – sorry, Shaw – off for an impromptu game of 20 questions and the hotel staff start asking questions of their own – such as: ‘What happened to the pension fund Shaw was looking after for us?’ Kovacs confronts Shaw and loses his temper with him, costing him his job. Kovacs, a few other staff and a soon-to-be evicted Fitzhugh (Broderick) team up to exact revenge by stealing Shaw’s hidden fortune. They soon realize that they are not cut out for a life of crime, so they enlist the help of Kovac’s mouthy neighbour, Slide (Murphy).
The plot jogs along at a fair pace, with few, if any, glaring omissions or plot holes. All the characters are painted large and bold across the screen, so there is never any doubt whom we should be cheering for, and which ones are wearing the black hats. My only real issue was the relationship between Kovacs and the investigating officer, Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) – there was an unnecessary amount of unresolved sexual tension that I found detracted from, rather than added to, the suspense of the whole thing.
The last 25 minutes are, as you’d expect from a classic caper, a bit of a roller-coaster. We should expect nothing less from director Brett Ratner, who you will recall is responsible for the Rush Hour (1998 onwards) series of films (and also the pitifully bad Horrible Bosses (2011), but we’ll zip past that). Ratner paces it very well and manages to wring every drop of suspense out of what is – and let’s be honest here – a fairly weak plot.
If you have a sense of humour, an open mind and 100 minutes you don’t know what to do with, this could well be what you need. If you need sumptuous sets, deep story lines and Keira Knightley or Helena Bonham-Carter flouncing around in something frilly and impossible to wear, you may just be disappointed.