I’ve seen great caper movies, and this isn’t one of them. As mainstream Hollywood studio movies go, Tower Heist isn’t bad, and it will probably fulfill most audience’s desire for escapist fare. But despite some good laughs here and there and a couple of neat plot twists, it’s just not as clever as it seems to think it is. Even a recurring cat-and-mouse exchange about chess between the bad guy (billionaire-investor Alan Alda) and the good guy (Robin Hood-ish thief Ben Stiller) doesn’t pay off with a really satisfying punchline.
On the plus side, Tower Heist has a well-cast ensemble and makes great use of its mid-Manhattan location, including an incursion into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (I was more absorbed in those scenes—and trying to figure out how they were filmed—than I was in the “thrill” footage set many stories up in the sky. Now that computer imagery has made the impossible possible, it’s hard to be invested in those kind of stunts because we know—
—they’re not real and no one is at risk.)
Ben Stiller is right at home in the role of a hard-working, multi-tasking building manager for the swankiest apartment house in New York City. Alda is his highest-profile tenant who turns out to be a swindler. When it turns out that he’s pilfered the pension funds of the building staff, Stiller recruits a handful of allies to break into Alda’s apartment and find his hidden safe. His secret ingredient: a thief he knows from his neighborhood in Queens. Eddie Murphy is a natural for this role, which should have been the comic showcase some of us have been waiting for. Instead, he’s on cruise control, as if to acknowledge that with material like this it isn’t worth breaking a sweat.
Director Brett Ratner does capture the atmosphere of a bustling New York building with a multicultural staff. But the script, credited to Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson (from a story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, and Griffin), never goes the distance in terms of interesting character development…and leaves several story threads loose during the third act.
I know, it’s just a caper movie. But why shouldn’t a big-budget film with A-list talent provide a great entertainment experience? Tower Heist is just good enough to get by.