Thursday, November 3, 2011

This 'Tower' doesn't topple

If you were looking for a biting social critique about the kind of well-heeled miscreants who commit investor fraud, you'd do well to skip Tower Heist, a new comedy starring Ben Stiller. But if you're ready for an easygoing caper comedy that doesn't spend a minute worrying about how preposterous it can get, Tower Heist fills the bill.

Director Brett Ratner, best known for the Rush Hour movies, doesn't always seem to know whether to emphasize his movie's caper elements or flex its comic muscles, but he offers just enough of both to keep Tower from toppling.

The movie centers on the employees of The Tower, an upscale Manhattan high rise. Stiller portrays Josh Kovacs, manager of the building. Kovacs plies his trade with dedicated precision until the major plot twist arrives: One the building's tenants - Alan Alda's Arthur Shaw -- has defrauded investors out of billions, a sum that also happens to include the pension fund of the Tower's employees.

Before you can say Madoff, Josh tries to convince his co-workers to take revenge by robbing Shaw of $20 million he supposedly has stashed in his penthouse apartment, the one with the roof-top swimming pool that has a giant picture of a $100 bill painted on its bottom.

Joining Stiller are Casey Affleck (as the building's concierge); Matthew Broderick (as an apartment owner who has been foreclosed); Michael Pena (as an elevator operator); and Stephen McKinley Henderson (as the building's lovable doorman).

Of course, there's an obstacle: None of the aggrieved employees know the first thing about theft. Josh decides to address this flaw by enlisting the services of a low-grade felon (Eddie Murphy) from his Queens neighborhood.

Although he doesn't arrive until the picture's well under way, Murphy proves a welcome presence, as do Gabourey Sidibe, as a maid with safe-cracking skills, and Tea Leoni, as the FBI agent who's working Shaw's case.

The script tends to over-complicate things with twist upon twist, but a toned-down Stiller plays well against an amped-up Murphy, and there's one great set piece involving a red Ferrari, which Shaw - most improbably - keeps in his living room.

I won't say more, except to note if you don't like heights (that would be me), you'll find this sequence both excruciating and funny.

Will you believe any of this? I doubt it, but credibility doesn't matter as much as Ratner's inability to find consistent laughs.

Still - and it's a big still - Tower Heist goes down easily, passing muster as a mainstream comedy with a little socially oriented frosting, a generous helping of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and a couple of totally unlikely -- but nonetheless inspired -- moments.

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