Wall Street caper not so preposterous
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Nov 04, 2011
"Tower Heist" is an improbably satisfying action comedy, the kind of wax-on-wax-off, slickly machined Hollywood widget that meets its audience's expectations without once aspiring to exceed them.
Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the general manager of the Tower, a posh apartment complex that is so similar to Manhattan's Trump Tower, it was filmed there. Overseeing a motley staff that includes his brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck), a generously built maid named Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and a dunder-headed newbie named Enrique (Michael Pena), Josh proudly caters to every passing whim of his elite clientele, the richest of whom is the penthouse dweller Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda).
If Shaw is the Tower's most demanding denizen, he's also the warmest, and for a while, "Tower Heist" looks as if it might be more of a scurrying backstage drama a la "Grand Hotel" than a caper flick. But when the staff pensions Josh invested with Shaw disappear like the dregs of last night's single malt - and Christophe Beck's retro musical score kicks in with "Thomas Crown"-era horns - the game is afoot.
If the story seems cobbled together from rejected "Ocean's Eleven" plot points - directed with no discernible degree of finesse by Brett Ratner - "Tower Heist" nonetheless benefits from some terrific performances, especially Eddie Murphy returning to signature form as a street criminal Josh enlists to help get the lost pension money back. Matthew Broderick, as a down-on-his-luck executive who's now squatting in his former Tower apartment, plays the milquetoast with a quivering air of defeat, and Pena steals every scene he's in as the class dumb bunny.
As enjoyable as these individual performances are, they don't always emulsify into a smoothly integrated whole, and there are long stretches when one or two characters seem to disappear. But that matters little in a movie that, like "The Manchurian Candidate" and "The China Syndrome" before it, derives most of its cachet - not to mention its most cathartic laughs - from how uncannily it chimes with the times. With its Madoff-like villain, radicalized "working stiffs" and setting of post-boom apocalypse, "Tower Heist" may be the first-ever action comedy that could have been conceived, pitched and written in Zuccotti Park.
In 1956, Judy Holiday starred in one of the all-time great take-downs of greedy corporations, "The Solid Gold Cadillac"; while "Tower Heist" will never approach the sublime satirical heights of that classic, it bears more than a few whiffs of its well-aimed indignation.
And to the filmmakers' credit, they never make Josh and his team simply out for money and revenge; instead they ground them in a real and sympathetic community whose invisible labor supports an entire ecosystem of obscene wealth and conspicuous consumption.
In another era, Tower staff members would be scheming to get their own deluxe apartment in the sky; today, when they go after the entire structure in an outlandish stunt orchestrated above the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the symbolism suggests that their subversion would find favor, not just with Occupy Wall Street, but with icons as true-blue as Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants.
The "Tower Heist" heroes often seem lifted directly from the Central Casting handbook, their antics preposterous enough to beggar belief, but they arrive at just the right moment.
They're the 99 percent.
Contains profanity and sexual content.