Film Review: Tower Heist

Employees get revenge on the financier who swindled their money in a broad, crowd-pleasing comedy.

Revenge is sweet but slow in Tower Heist, a shambling comedy about getting back at the rich that keeps its focus firmly on the mainstream. Boasting a strong cast and a reasonably credible plot, the film should do well with moviegoers out for an undemanding time. With Occupy Wall Street dominating the media and Ruth Madoff on a sympathy tour, Universal couldn't have picked a better release date.

It helps that Tower Heist takes place in a recognizable New York, one where rich and poor live side by side, and one whose landmarks haven't been airbrushed away. Most of the film unfolds in The Tower (in real life, The Trump International Hotel & Tower), a luxury condominium off Central Park. There, a quickly sketched-in staff of supporting actors serves the super-wealthy, primarily Bernie Madoff stand-in Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), whose nice-guy exterior disguises an unrepentant swindler.

Once Shaw clears out the employees' pension plan, it's up to business manager Josh Kovaks (Ben Stiller) to set things right. But then he gets fired for vandalizing a Ferrari sports car Shaw keeps in his penthouse apartment. Info from Queens FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) convinces Kovaks that he must turn to crime if he ever hopes to recover his staff's missing money. He concocts a plan to break into the penthouse during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, when the financier will be making a court appearance. Among Kovaks' recruits: concierge and in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck), elevator operator Dev'Reaux (Michael Peña), unemployed stockbroker Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), and petty crook Slide (Eddie Murphy), Kovaks' neighbor in Queens.

Director Brett Ratner opts for a leisurely approach to the script, credited to four writers, which means it takes a long time for Eddie Murphy (sans prosthetics) to appear and the plot to kick into gear. The comedian's trash-talking Slide is a return of sorts to his Trading Places and 48 Hrs. roots, albeit in a PG-13 version. His work is strong but limited, something that can also be said of Broderick's wistful loser and Affleck's dimwitted but conscience-stricken working man.

The main problem is that no one character truly takes control in Tower Heist. Nominal star Ben Stiller has apparently decided to leave comedy to others. He's an amiable presence, but doesn't have the dramatic heft to carry the film by simply reacting to his co-stars. Murphy disappears for long stretches, and appealing performers like Leoni and Sidibe get limited screen time.

The wish-fulfillment plot will hold viewers' sympathies for a long time, even as Ratner goes overboard during some ill-conceived cliffhanging sequences. In the end, Tower Heist resembles a downscale Ocean’s Eleven, with fewer ingenious twists and almost no believable complications. Still, who doesn't want to see the mighty brought low? You may not feel enriched after watching Tower Heist, but at least you won't think your time had been robbed.