Director Brett Ratner, who brought us such classics as Rush Hour 3 and X Men: Last Stand, turns his hand to the heist movie with Tower Heist, which I've recently heard described as a poor man's Oceans Eleven. This is rather an unfair assessment, and I'm happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by what is an unassuming and highly improbable, but also very entertaining comedy crime caper.
The film follows Josh (Ben Stiller) and a small group of employees at a high-rise luxury apartment building who are fired from their jobs after losing their pensions in a scam run by their boss, businessman Arthur Shaw (a wonderfully sleazy Alan Alda), who is under house-arrest by the FBI for fraud. They hatch a plot to recoup the lost cash with a smash and grab raid on Shaw's penthouse suite, guarded by FBI agents, where they believe he may have concealed up to $20 million in cash. To this end, Josh recruits the help of petty criminal Slide (Eddie Murphy), his neighbour and once friend from daycare.
In fact, thankfully Tower Heist is nothing at all like Ocean's Eleven. These men are average Joes; out of a job, down on their luck, and attempting to reclaim what is rightfully theirs, and in this they have the full sympathy of the viewing audience. They are totally out of their depth when it comes to planning a robbery and the very opposite of smart and slick. Much of the comedy is of the `fish out of water' variety, centering on the clear ineptitude of the gang as would-be criminals, as they attempt to transform themselves from professional servitude to professional thievery. This premise yields a number of very funny moments, which I will not spoil by describing here.
The clever casting is spot on, particularly Matthew Broderick as a once high-flying businessman now unemployed and dejected, and the slightly vacant Dev'reaux (Michael Pena). The performance of Eddie Murphy too is cause for optimism, here at his best since his films of the 80s, back to playing a wise-cracking character of the Reggie Hammond (48Hrs)/Billy-Ray Valentine (Trading Places) mould, something he clearly does very well.
Actually, Tower Heist works far better as a comedy than as a heist movie, with the crime distinctly playing second fiddle to the laughs. If I had one major criticism, it would be that the actual heist begins a little too late, some elements of the logistics of which are glossed over or even omitted completely as proceedings become more and more far-fetched. That said, there are some original and exciting moments, one in particular involving dangling a classic Ferrari out of a top storey apartment window while a Thanksgiving Parade is underway on the streets below.
Despite its plot holes, Tower Heist makes for marvellous escapist entertainment, full of energy, wit and with a premise that makes us root for the good guys from the start. 7/10.