I’m a sucker for a good heist flick. I like the characters, each bringing their particular set of skills to a unique jigsaw puzzle. The planning. The execution. The screw-ups. The recoveries. On and on. I love an elaborately set trap. In many ways, Tower Heist is similar to Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films of the past decade in that they lack much suspense and work well largely because of the actors on board. However, there are two big differences: the Ocean’s films are much more exquisitely crafted than this outing while Soderbergh’s classy, high-end direction is unforgettable, atthe end of the day, no one will remember who Brett Ratner was.
In my review for Showtime’s Homeland, I was quite excited that they didn’t bank on the cliches of the War on Terror. There’s nothing worse than a high-end production taking today’s news and rubbing it on our faces to make the crises seem more relevant. Thankfully, Tower Heist takes a similar tack. Rather than delve into the intricacies of our currently flaccid economy and the evils of big corporations, we focus on a Bernie Madoff-like persona in Alan Alda’s character Arthur Shaw. We don’t have the details of how he lost so much of everyone else’s money, the point is he lost it and people’s livelihoods hang in the balance. Unfortunately for us, we don’t really know this until nearly half an hour into the flick as the film spends over half of its running time building up to even the planning stages of their theft. It’s as if they want us to somehow relate to Alan Alda’s Shaw before tearing him down; as though they want to prop him up as some kind of ‘good guy on the bad side of the line’. It doesn’t work in the slightest, as much as I enjoy Alda playing a weasel-y character, so I don’t know why they bothered.
Because of Shaw’s actions, the small crew (Stiller, Broderick, Murphy, Peña, Affleck, Sidibe) is motivated to find $20 million hidden in his luxurious penthouse suite. For all the security this building is reported to have, there are few hitches in the plot to drive any sort of tension. The small crew, the simple plan, the bombastic, and the wide-angled direction saps much of the joy out of the heist, leaving more moments for Ratner’s silly comic relief. The movie’s not a loss as the casting is fantastic and the performances are enjoyable, if nothing else, Ratner is a good actor’s director. I’m sure if they’d edited out the entire heist, and probably all of the quasi-love scenes with Téa Leoni, it’d probably be just as fun to watch.
SPOILER SECTION FOLLOWS (CLICK AND DRAG MOUSE OVER TO REVEAL)
Right as the heist begins, Eddie Murphy’s “Slide” steals one of Ben Stiller’s suits and begins the operation solo now that Sidibe’s maid character has taught him how to crack Shaw’s safe. He confronts of the remainder of the crew as they hack through a wall to find the safe with a pistol. Sidibe cracks the safe and they find nothing. Slide and Broderick get into a fight and an accidental firing sends a bullet into the car, Stiller begins to scrape off more paint off to reveal the entire thing is made of gold, worth an amount roughly twice what they were looking for. They evacuate the car out the window by use of a cleaner’s swing stage, which amounts to the most thrilling sequence in the movie. The car is wheeled out of Broderick’s former apartment (his assets were liquidated after being laid off from Merill Lynch) and on top of an elevator, the same elevator that Shaw and his FBI entourage ride up to investigate the penthouse (an old lady’s squeaky dog almost giving them away, but not quite. The crew are eventually arrested one by one sans car, which was hidden in Shaw’s rooftop pool, which had been conveniently covered to retain heat after Shaw is taken in initially. The gold parts are then shipped out individually to the tenants of the building to compensate for their loss of pensions by Shaw’s dealings. Still goes to jail for two years in exchange for letting the others in the heist free.
END SPOILER SECTION