In a current national climate that sees the #occupy hashtag used equally to organize political/social demonstrations and make sex and poop jokes, there are two ways for a film to address the collapse of big banks and the rampant corruption and general idiocy in Wall Street: engage in intelligent discourse and present a balanced look at the topic or use it as a platform to make jokes about vaginas and racial stereotypes. Any guesses regarding into which camp Tower Heist falls?
Naturally, it is the latter. Tower Heist is an exceedingly stupid and shallow film, turning itself into an instant disappointment simply by treating a dire current situation with such disregard for any sense of depth. Yet it is also surprising in its ability to excite and entertain, and while it sometimes gets its stupid humor wrong, it more often gets it right. In fact, Tower Heist is shockingly decent even if it fails miserably to be the fun yet intelligent caper it could have been.
Director: Brett Ratner
Release Date: November 4
In Tower Heist, Ben Stiller plays Josh, a manager at an upscale New York City highrise. In addition to his daily duties, he was also responsible for helping to invest the employees’ pensions with the assistance of the resident billionaire (Alda). When it is discovered that all of their money is gone, Josh and company set out to make things right by robbing the penthouse apartment, a task only possible with the assistance of a neighboring criminal named Slide (Murphy).
Within minutes of meeting each character, it becomes instantly apparent that they have no depth whatsoever, which the film attempts to mask with repeated references to chess. Never heard a chess metaphor in a movie, right? Once you’re past that, each and every character fails to fulfill any of the promise that the actors inhabiting them bring to the table. Alda’s character is especially guilty in this regard. He’s the most predictably evil billionaire you can imagine, and each scene he’s in endeavors to do nothing more than have him say something more despicable than the last. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
The plot itself doesn’t fare any better. The whole concept of the movie is silly, but it’s the right kind of silly: a fantastical “If I were in that position I would dream of doing that” type. Issues begin to arise during the heist itself, which quickly becomes the stupid kind of silly that just hurts to be witness to. The manner in which Alda’s character hides his money is enough to make anyone cringe, and the film really spirals out of control from there, adding more and more ridiculousness simply to keep things moving. It’s all good fun to watch, but fun that makes sense always wins out over the sort that throws sense out of the window. Literally (you’ll see what I mean).
What’s truly surprising about the movie is that it’s often hilarious and quite varied in its humor. One minute, it’ll throw a vagina joke at you, and the next minute it’s touching upon racial stereotypes. There’s plenty of slapstick and physical comedy, and there are even one or two smart jokes. Sure, a lot of the jokes aren’t funny at all, especially when the film decides to go racial, which it does using the most obvious jokes available. The frequency with which the film tosses the funny at you ensures that it both succeeds and fails often, though its successes are plentiful enough that this can be called a very funny heist film.
The cast must also be mentioned, which brings in a dearth of people who haven’t been funny in years (or arguably ever). Ever single person in the main cast is quite wonderful, from Ben Stiller in his incredibly typical Ben Stiller role and Eddie Murphy returning to what he does best (though he’s still nowhere near Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel). Even Matthew Broderick is a highlight — perhaps the main highlight of the film. He’s goofier than normal and gets some of the film’s better one-liners, and he has the only interesting character in the film.
You’re not going to find the quirky, more mature heist action of an Ocean’s Eleven or Dog Day Afternoon in Tower Heist. It is not a great movie by any means, and it squanders a lot of the potential of a great cast, some great jokes, and a topical focus. But it’s funny, entertaining, and worth keeping in mind next time you’re not sure what to watch.