Fast-moving and feloniously funny, the slickly executed Tower Heist is one of the most enjoyable mainstream Hollywood comedies of the year. Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy are terrific, leading a large ensemble cast that doesn’t have a single weak link. The plot builds to increasingly higher levels of hilarity, and the little-guys-get-even theme couldn’t be more timely. If you want edgy intellectual irony, look elsewhere — but if you’re up for a goofy good time, this is a winner.
Stiller is Josh Kovacks, ultra-efficient manager of a luxurious residential high-rise where the average apartment goes for $5.6 million. (Think Trump Tower — which was the onscreen stand-in for the building — but without the Donald.)
Manning the front desk is Josh’s well-meaning but kinda dumb brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck). Lester the lovable doorman (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is ready to retire after 29 years, and husband-hunting housekeeper Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe from Precious) has a work visa that’s about to expire. Bellhop Dev’Reaux (Michael Peña), who calls himself the Puerto Rican Mohican, is a former Burger King employee unaccustomed to dealing with the bourgeoisie.
All of them and several other colorful characters who make up the building’s staff see their pensions wiped out because Josh entrusted the money to regally pampered penthouse owner Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). The snidely patronizing tycoon, whose rooftop pool resembles a huge hundred-dollar bill, gets put under house arrest for defrauding much bigger investors. As casually sexy FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) puts it, “You guys were his smallest account.”
Fired for going medieval on Shaw’s Ferrari in outrage, Josh decides the only way to redeem himself with his co-workers is by breaking into Shaw’s penthouse to steal what’s in his secret safe. He puts together a team including Charlie, Dev’Reaux and Odessa, who turns out to know a few things about safecracking. “We’ve been casing the place for 10 years,” Josh tells them. “We just didn’t know it.”
For financial advice, the team enlists the building’s first evictee, the amusingly timid Mr Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick). And for criminally minded street smarts, Josh taps his loudmouth repeat-offender neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy, who delivers a laugh-out-loud return-to-form performance).
In Murphy’s most memorable moment, his crassly crude character impersonates a sophisticated bank executive for a meeting with Josh’s ex-boss Mr. Simon (Judd Hirsch). Asked what happened to Simon’s previous contact at Chase, Slide says his predecessor was let go because “if you want to wear a leather hood and whip your own ass, work for Bank of America.”
Briskly directed by Brett Ratner (who helmed X-Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour trilogy), Tower Heist also benefits from a big, brassy score by Christophe Beck and a smooth-as-clockwork screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson.
The robbery itself comes with complications, double crosses and crazy coincidences that escalate to a climax that’s extremely unlikely yet undeniably satisfying. Consider this caper an early holiday treat.
[Rating: 4 stars]
Tower Heist is released in theaters Friday November 4, 2011