Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Tower Heist (2011)
It’s always a pleasant surprise to go into a film with one set of expectations and come out surprised at the result. “Tower Heist” looked as though it was a desperate attempt to bring together some comedic actors for a few laughs, and let’s face it, to find the last good movies that either Ben Stiller or Eddie Murphy have been in, you’d have to go back a few years. However, “Tower Heist” provides just this kind of surprise as it delivers not only on the humor, but also with its interesting plot.
Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the General Manager of a luxurious apartment building called “The Tower.” He is in charge of running the entire staff who are responsible for attending to every little need their tenants might have. One of these tenants is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who resides in the penthouse. One day, in what Josh thinks is a kidnapping, Shaw attempts to flee from his apartment, but is picked up by the FBI on suspicion of conducting a ponzi scheme in which he took money from several people, including the staff of The Tower, and promised to invest it.
This news devastates the entire staff, including Lester (Stephen Henderson), who attempts to commit suicide because he has lost all of his savings. This heightens Josh’s aggravation towards Shaw, causing him to damage a prized possession of his, which leads to his and two other employee’s dismissals from their positions. When Josh is informed by an FBI agent, Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), that Shaw’s safety net (aka back-up money) has not been found, he launches a plan with his some of his colleagues to rob Shaw’s penthouse where he believes the money is hidden.
The best feature of “Tower Heist” ends up being its good sense of humor. It doesn’t deal too much with lewd or lowbrow jokes, but rather works with one-liners and situational comedy. The second half in particular, where the heist takes place, seems to continually build on humorous and downright implausible events that continually up the stakes as it proceeds. There were several parts in this second half that had me glued to the screen wondering what could possibly happen next.
To pull off this heist film, a wonderful ensemble cast was assembled including Ben Stiller, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Eddie Murphy, Judd Hirsch, Tea Leoni, Casey Affleck, and Gabourey Sidibe. As mentioned earlier, you’d have to go back several years to see the last good live-action film Stiller was in, same with Murphy, whose venture into kids’ films like “Meet Dave” and “Imagine That” has kept him from starring in anything decent lately. However, I’m glad to report that he is back in form and earns several good laughs here. It’s also good to see Alda back on the big screen after not having done anything all that big for the last few years.
The one shortcoming of “Tower Heist” that was present throughout the first half was that it felt like it was stretched out too long. It seemed like it took quite a while to set up the situation where Shaw is arrested to Josh’s firing to planning the heist to its eventual execution. Luckily, there are plenty of laughs thrown in to keep the pacing at an acceptable level, and once that second half hits, you’ll more than likely be engaged in the ludicrous, yet intriguing heist.
The film comes from director Brett Ratner (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Rush Hour”), who has been hit and miss with films he’s chosen to direct. The screenplay was written by Ted Griffin, who also wrote the excellent remake of “Ocean’s Eleven,” and Jeff Nathanson, whose filmography includes the wonderful con film “Catch Me If You Can.” It’s clear to see why these two would be chosen for this film what with their great experience in the genre.
What we end up with is a film that will have you laughing all the way through while at the same time reminding you that some talent never goes away, it just hibernates in smaller or inferior movies for awhile before that right project reaches them. “Tower Heist” has pulled together a wonderful cast that truly gets to shine with the material. For those who were just as skeptical, you just might find yourself equally surprised. 3/4 stars.