Tower Heist (Review)

(11/04/11; Comedy, Thriller)
Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe
SCR: Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson
DIR: Brett Ratner
1 hour 44 mins
MPAA: PG-13 For language and sexual content.
BOX: $78,046,570

The combined filmographies of Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller and director Brett Ratner haven’t amounted to much during the first decade of the new century. So what a surprise it is to find that Tower Heist is such an entertaining and timely comic thriller, clearly the exception to the rule, considering the participants.

Stiller plays the manager of the Tower, an exclusive New York high-rise apartment that excels in services provided to its rich tenants. He plays virtual chess daily with Alda – a billionaire Wall Street type, and a real snake. Years ago, Alda was asked to invest all of their pensions. One day, it appears that he has defrauded everything. Now, it’s personal.

With Alda under house arrest, Stiller begins putting the pieces together and realizes he has the one piece of information the feds (and tough gal agent Leoni) can’t figure out: exactly where Alda hid $20 million prior to being arrested. From there, Stiller assembles a team of comic foils and begins the countdown to the Big Heist.

Screenwriters Griffin and Nathanson know this genre well, and know that for certain payoffs to work, certain bits of information must be kept from the audience. I’ll say no more, except to implore you to avoid any trailers or commercials because they reveal too many of the film’s big money shots and surprises.

Obviously, the cast enjoyed getting to play together in a sandbox with better toys than they are used to. Everyone – from Stiller’s short-tempered everyman to Broderick’s shambling wreck of a human being, to Sidibe’s sexed-up Jamaican safecracker, each performer takes their stereotype and makes it into something unique. The “welcome back” award must be given to Murphy, who hasn’t been this focused or dangerous in years.

Adding some heft is Dante Spinotti’s luscious cinematography, which evokes the muted cool shades of classic 70s crime flicks, and Christophe Beck’s jazzy, pulpy score, which would feel just right in The Super Cops (1974). There are nods aplenty, including a none-to-subtle wink to Steve McQueen and a quick homage to The French Connection (1974). Yeah, sure, Tower Heist goes for the easy laugh and occasionally lingers on a joke for too long. It’s not going to unseat The Sting (1973) anytime soon, but in the grand pantheon of amiable ensemble heist flicks, it has to be considered.

STUDIO HEIST: On October 5, 2011, Universal Pictures announced that Tower Heist would be made available for home viewing via parent company Comcast’s video on demand system three weeks after its theatrical debut at the rental cost of $59.99. The following day, Cinemark Theatres threatened to not show the film, followed eventually by every major theater chain in America. In response, Universal released a statement saying that they would no longer pursue the proposed test. (Universal)


Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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