Friday, November 11, 2011

Reel To Reel: Tower Heist

When you don't have Ocean's 11, four or five might work.

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Language (mainly Murphy's dirty mouth), some sexual references

Tower Heist wants to be the Ocean's 11 of the Occupy Wall Street age, seizing upon our low opinions of banks, securities firms, and anybody stinking rich. It's also designed to be a comeback vehicle for Eddie Murphy, who has seen his career circle the drain ever since he taking up family-friendly movies like Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care, and space gobbler The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Neither concept works entirely, but director Brett Ratner at least holds the film together.

Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is the manager for one of New York's most upscale condo-plexes, a place where people aren't merely paying for living space but for the luxury of having a staff that knows them, knows their name, knows their birthdays, their quirks, their dirty little secrets and will unflinchingly deliver service with a smile. Kovacs' chief task is catering to the needs of penthouse resident Arthur Shaw (Alda), a Wall Street titan who is suddenly arrested for Bernie Madoff-style securities fraud. In headline-ripping style, Shaw is put under house arrest at the top of the tower, and it just so happens he was managing the pension funds of all the tower's employees.

Seeing that Shaw might beat the rap and not refund a dime to the tower workers, Kovacs devises a scheme to steal back the money by using his concierge smarts to devise a foolproof burglary and getaway plan. He pulls in several employees and a geeky ex-resident (Broderick) for help, but they need a criminal mind. So Kovacs turns to his profane street-crook neighbor Slide (Murphy), who is supposed to school Kovacs' gang in how to rob.

It's nice to see Eddie Murphy go back to his slick fast-talking persona that vaulted him to success on Saturday Night Live and a slew of hit movies including his best, Beverly Hills Cop. The only problem is, Murphy's more dirty than funny. His earlier films were crude, yes, but they didn't stretch him into some gansta-wannabe. Maybe Murphy is making up for all those family films by overdoing it here.

Stiller's performance is more believable, although I still have a hard time buying into his leap from personal assistant to aspiring thief. For that matter, I also have a hard time believing Alda -- one of Hollywood's most likeable actors -- as a heartless moneyed cretin, but doggone it if he doesn't try.

Tower Heist probably should have gone more of the con-job route like The Sting, relying more on the wits and problem-solving skills of its characters rather than trying to pull off the heist of the decade.

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