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With: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Judd Hirsch, Téa Leoni, Michael PeĖa, Gabourey Sidibe, Nina Arianda, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Juan Carlos Hernández
Written by: Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson, based on a story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Ted Griffin
Directed by: Brett Ratner
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual content
Running Time: 104
Date: 10/24/2011

Tower Heist (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hoods and Services

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I have long maintained the idea that director Brett Ratner sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a Hollywood career. Not one of his movies has ever shown a speck of personality, humanity, or... soul. To date, none of them has ever been any good. Yet all of them have been hits, and all of them have received polite to warm responses from the critics. Unlike many real artists, he has never had any trouble, except from my small corner of the universe. Now even that much has ended for him. Tower Heist is his first good movie. Congratulations, Mr. Ratner.

I must now include a quote from Slant Magazine -- a website I greatly admire -- from their review of Tower Heist: "It's dead-hollow amusement that's offered by Brett Ratner's latest, a bland, schematic contrivance of a class comedy that never elicits any responses beyond the primitive and the childish. Defiantly graceless, Ratner... deals in loudness, haplessness, obviousness, and, certainly, crudeness." I can't disagree with this assessment. But while most Hollywood movies probably fall into this category, who's to say that they don't have their place?

No, Tower Heist is what my old friend and colleague Rob Blackwelder usedto call a "check your brain at the door" movie. It's the kind of movie in which a full-sized automobile made out of gold -- an extremely heavy metal -- is allowed to ride on top of a passenger elevator car. The roof of this elevator car, we have been shown in a previous scene, consists of thin wire mesh screens; a character can push out these screens with one hand and climb through. And yet they can support a gold car. But we buy it, because the mood is so brainless and cheerful.

Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, the manager of a ritzy New York tower filled with the wealthiest people in the world. He knows how to cater to their every whim and he loves his job. Top on his list is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who occupies the penthouse. Ratner opens with a shot of Shaw's pool, on the roof, with a huge $100 bill painted on the bottom. It's the kind of pool Ratner might own, and the perfect opening image for one of his films.

Josh has unwisely entrusted the pensions of his beloved staff to Mr. Shaw, who is now under arrest for fraud. In a fit of rage, Josh performs an act of revenge and ends up losing his job, along with desk clerk Charlie (Casey Affleck) and new elevator operator Enrique (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, a former Wall Street hotshot, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) has lost his apartment. These four team up and decide to rob Shaw's apartment. Not having any criminal experience, they also enlist Slide (Eddie Murphy), whom Josh knew from day care. When they need a safecracker, maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) comes in handy, and a loyal old doorman, Lester (Stephen Henderson) also lends a hand. Things are further complicated when a pretty FBI agent (Téa Leoni) enters Josh's life.

Screenwriters Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson -- who are working from a story by Griffin, Adam Cooper, and Bill Collage -- borrow from every heist movie ever made, but do so clearly and cheerfully. They throw in plenty of nifty details and twists, and even though many of them are expected, it would seem that they get more of the credit than Ratner deserves.

Ratner, for his part, revels in the massive expense of this movie, including all the stunts, and destruction, but mostly the gall of setting the entire thing during the Thanksgiving Day Macy's Parade, complete with huge cartoon character floats and Matt Lauer. The bigness of it never fails to excite, and Ratner somehow manages to balance it with little character moments. Best of all, he somehow manages to get a ferocious, energetic performance from Eddie Murphy, who is at his fast-talking best, recalling his star-making turns in 48 Hrs. and Trading Places. If the actor earned an Oscar nomination for the half-witted Dreamgirls, he doubly deserves one for this.

Murphy was the main reason I enjoyed Tower Heist so much; he's so fast, so jazzy, and so fluid, that he's a sheer joy to watch. I would be willing to credit the script -- or perhaps even Murphy himself -- for the infectious energy of his character. The rest of the actors at least appear to be enjoying themselves, and each other's company. However, it certainly took a director's of Ratner's luck -- regardless of the source of that luck -- to get Murphy and the others together. And that's what ultimately works here: the combination of real people -- people with souls. If only Ratner could learn something from that.

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