What do you do with Eddie Murphy when he wants to return to adult comedy in an ensemble heist film? If you’re Universal Pictures you hire fanboy-maligned Brett Ratner (X3, Rush Hour), then have him assemble a company of thieves and let them loose on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to rob a business mogul’s tower in order to avenge the money he stole from them, Bernie Madoff-style. If you’re familiar with Ratner’s resume, the resulting film is about on par with his reputation. Tower Heist is a fun but forgettable movie that has just enough pop to entertain while viewing it, but quickly dissolves from your brain after you leave the theater.
I will admit Tower Heist succeeded more than I expected on certain levels, helped mainly by the eccentric group of actors that make up the supporting team for Ben Stiller (Josh Kovacs) and Eddie Murphy (Slide). Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Gabourey Sidibe & Michael Peña were inspired casting that were genuine and clever in their supporting performances, especially Broderick, who was funnier in this than anything I have seen him take part in for years. Tea Leoni (Claire Denham) was also adorable (especially in the drunk bar scene) as the FBI agent love interest that becomes entangled with Kovacs. Each supporting character had great moments on-screen and nobody felt like they were just filling space.
Not to slight Stiller, who was likeable and strong as the moral hero at the center of the film, but Alan Alda is the standout as the magnificent bastard Arthur Shaw that is the target of the film’s titular heist. Alda was believable enough to make me like his character early in the film but loathe him by the end of it. I found myself actually rooting a bit for him when he is first charged by the FBI but swears innocence to Kovacs, but his slimy-smooth performance makes the character’s outing as a true sleazeball seem natural rather than random. I felt just as swindled as Kovacs and the rest of Shaw’s employees for falling for his charade when his true colors eventually show in a squirm-inducing scene where Kovacs is forced to apologize against his will for a previous incident in the tower or face charges from Shaw that will land him in jail.
Most of the talk around this movie is most likely to be generated by Eddie Murphy’s return to more mature comedy. Murphy was a comedic god to many generations and had a huge impact on my views of comedy & stand-up. Unfortunately, to today’s youth he is most likely known better as Charlie Murphy’s brother. Strange times we live in. But as far as his performance in Tower Heist, it’s a good news/bad news situation. You want the bad news first, right? Of course you do. The bad news is that this movie is not quite good enough to relaunch Eddie’s comedic career to a new generation. The good news? Murphy is actually legitimately funny in this movie. He swears, he’s angry, he’s despicable. No kids, fat suits or fart jokes here. Things we all loved about the Murphy of old are back in this film and it’s great to see. Unfortunately Tower Heist is just too lukewarm and will most likely have fans looking elsewhere for his big comeback film.
The biggest downside to the movie was its lack of defining moments. You know the ones that you and your friends immediately talk about after the film ends? There aren’t any in this movie. The heist itself isn’t even very clever. In better caper films the high moments are always how the actual heist unveils itself and the audience sees how the crooks managed to overcome the obstacles surrounding lifting the loot. While sitting here writing this review and trying to recall the details of the heist, it seems like all Stiller’s team did was have Sidibe (Odessa Montero) knockout a security guard to break into the tower. From there they just improvised the rest of the robbery. Sure there was a bit more to it than that but is this really the impression you want your heist film to leave in the moviegoer’s mind afterwards?
Overall, Tower Heist is a ridiculous but perfectly serviceable comedy that is certainly elevated by the clever casting of the talent involved. There isn’t really anything uproarious here, but the film has quite a few more funny moments than you’d expect throughout making it an entertaining enough ride. But if you’re looking to protect your own loot and only plan on spending your hard-earned cash on a select few movies this holiday season, you can probably pass on Tower Heist and wait for it on DVD, HBO or NetFlix.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10