What do you get when you let a director known for adequately average films and two comedians who haven't starred in a good movie in years attempt to convince people to spend their hard-earned cash on a movie about people losing their hard-earned cash? A surprisingly convincing crime-comedy called Tower Heist, which, strangely, isn't very funny.
Representing the 99% and glaring menacingly at the 1%, Tower Heist is a movie clearly aimed at the working class masses that feel the financial industry is responsible for ruining the world. This appeal to the everyman does not simmer beneath the surface or dangle loosely to an ill-conceived plot; it is a part of the film's DNA and is embraced wholeheartedly.
The preview audience that sat around me - an odd mixture of senior citizens on a field trip and a decidedly blue collar crowd - ate up every minute of this Brett Ratner production, egged on by its complete disgust thrown toward the seemingly nice but decidedly wicked financial wizard (Alan Alda) who ruined the lives of every person who works in the tower where he resides. Their enthusiasm for the actions of the protagonists, a ragtag group of misfits that include Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña and Gabourey Sidibe, was pronounced.
If their excitement toward the movie is any indication, Tower Heist could catch on in a big way.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Tower Heist is an entertaining movie. It's pure popcorn shenanigans, with a clear line drawn between the heroes and villains and often a disregard for common sense or reality. The movie has no right to be as fun or as engaging as it is, but it is nonetheless.
It has no right because it's a comedy that isn't very funny. The first of the movie is suspiciously straight-laced, most of the characters average, even boring. Ben Stiller thankfully avoids his typical play-it-awkward-to-make-people-laugh shtick which became tired somewhere between Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, but without it he isn't very funny. Though it remains lighthearted, the first half of the movie plays out like every-boring-day life: Stiller's character manages a fancy Upper Eastside condominium building, he has to deal with staff issues, he chats it up with the rich guy on the top floor, he learns - and then has to inform his staff - that the man has spent his and everyone else's pension, destroying their futures. One of his most beloved employees tries to commit suicide.
In other words, cheerful, hilarious stuff.
It's not until the characters decide they're going to rob their evil tenant, and bring Eddie Murphy into the gang, that things kick into high gear. Suddenly, Ratner turns the movie into a legitimate - or somewhat legitimate - heist movie, where the characters plot and ultimately execute their haphazard plan. It's a plan that Danny Ocean would never touch, but this group of ragtag, lower class warriors ventures on ahead, representing the everyman that has been stepped on all their lives by rich people.
The audience has fun in the process, and that's what Tower Heist is all about. I had fun, too.
That doesn't make Tower Heist a great movie. Not by any stretch of the imagination. As fun as the movie is, it does require some imagination - more than I like to use in heist movies. The heist is absurd, which to a degree is fine. The movie is a comedy and allows for goofy, over-the-top moments. The situation the characters get themselves into is naturally over-the-top. So, some disbelief is allowed. And yet the entire second half of the movie is devoted to one heist, and Ratner treats the movie as a legitimate heist movie, albeit one with comedic characters. The whole point of a heist movie is to see how the protagonists pull off the heist. Could what have happened in Ocean's 11 really happened? Probably not, but the movie takes the audience step-by-step through the plan, making it believable.
Ratner skips a few key steps, making Tower Heist utterly unbelievable.
As with any heist movie, it's less important how the criminals do the act as it is how they get away with it. Tower Heist falls short in both aspects. While I can piece together what happened, the payoff is so sudden and without setup it took me over a day to figure out how the crime was pulled off, and even then I question how convincing it is.
Maybe I'm over thinking things, overanalyzing as I tend to do. Tower Heist is a crime comedy about dumb criminals sticking it to the man. Tower Heist isn't supposed to be Ocean's 11, nor is it anything like it. And yet it is still a heist movie, and not a simple one, and lacks a few logical steps.
Still, Tower Heist is fun and the vast majority of moviegoers will enjoy it. Its lack of real, consistent laughs is surprising and somewhat disappointing; it's far from a comedy classic. And yet, once Eddie Murphy shows up the laughs increase significantly. Despite limited screen time, Murphy is the best thing about the movie, and Sidibe, in an even more limited role, also very good. Their performances, combined with the overall energy of the movie, make Tower Heist a surprisingly effective movie, regardless of the genre that best describes it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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