To pull of a successful heist, a proper crew is required. A group of individuals who are diverse enough to serve multiple purposes yet at the same time, work together seamlessly like a well-oiled machine. This same rule applies to films centering on elaborate heists, and if a dynamic cast is formed then that’s half the battle.
Ocean’s 11 (not the Rat Pack version, they were a group before the movie was even made) worked because every character gelled with one another perfectly. With the right crew assembled in a certain type of film, faults can be overlooked and even ignored at times; which is the case in Tower Heist, a comedic caper that has such a terrific cast it makes the implausible shallow story a genuinely fun ride.
It stars Ben Stiller in one of his most retained roles yet, as the manager of a posh high-rise in New York. He, along with the rest of the staff, become jobless when the chief resident of the building is arrested for participating in a Ponzi scheme, which renders their pensions obsolete. Stiller then puts into motion a heist which required him to gather together a ragtag team, who have all fallen victim to corporate American greed, which is basically embodied in the villainous character of Alan Alda.
While it does have a strong connection with the economic downswing crippling hundreds of hardworking employees everyday, Tower Heist is a comedy and plays with the issue rather mildly. The dialogue is in good taste, for the most part. Unlike the Apatow laugh riots being released week after week, this film generates a good deal of grins and chuckles from the improvisation between actors.
Swearing isn’t overused and in exchange for vulgarity, characters are very detailed in how they particularly feel about a subject. A scene in which the group gets detoured from planning the robbery and discusses how great lesbians are, is an example of how each personality plays off of one another to a degree that’s pitch perfect. The chemistry with the whole cast is spot-on as well, even if stereotypes are used for maximum effect.
The one component that changes the gears and gets the plot rolling is Eddie Murphy. He transforms Tower Heist into a great ensemble comedy where his work enhances anyone else who shares the screen with him. What could have been a mild-mannered heist flick with a bunch of workers turned rookie thieves, elevates into an energetic does of action once Murphy climbs onboard.
His small-time crook is a reminder of the magnetic roles that made him so famous in the 80’s. Fast-talking, conniving, savvy and with a great emphasis on pronunciation; this is the type of persona Murphy can get a real grasp of and mold into his own. Every time he isn’t on screen after he shows up, the movie loses the dose of vigor he injected into it. Hopefully Murphy returns to this type of comedy where his talent is utilized cleverly instead of being drained to the point of tedium.
The story is orchestrated in a way that stays loose and carefree for about two-thirds, until the heist itself takes over and dominates all sense of proper understanding. This is where the ludicrously insane robbery proves to be too over the top. Without giving much away, let’s just say a Ferrari dangling out of a tower with multiple people attached to it is not a smart idea for a heist. Still, the climax is incredibly suspenseful and will have audiences clinging to their seats, thanks to a smart technique for filming height as an impending source of horror.
Aside from Murphy the cast is superb, ranging from the likes of Mathew Broderick’s nerdy stockbroker to Gabrielle Sidibe’s fierce Jamaican maid. Everyone has terrific timing that delivers laughs that are well-earned as opposed to appearing overly forceful. Alda plays against type as an oily weasel with no compassion for the damage he’s caused, he remains a confident bad guy until the end who’s easy to loathe.
As the leader, Stiller plays the straight man who tries to keep the group together which doesn’t have him exploding into fits of uncontrollable rage seen in the Focker films. His romance subplot with Téa Leoni is so thin it could be ignored, but not falling in love with an actress like her often proves impossible. The sincere nature she inhabits is appealing even as a throwaway love interest.
Tower Heist is too much fun too dislike. It may not be the smartest or even the funniest film of the year, but it does feature one of the best ensemble casts seen in a comedy for a while now. Every actor has their moment to shine and they all work comfortably as support among one another. However it’s Murphy who really steals the show, designed in a role that was tailor made just for him and his impeccable comedic flair for adding the right amount of levity to any given situation. This is a comeback vehicle for him that doesn’t feature any fatsuits or exploits the idea of multiple roles, it’s just good old fashioned Reggie Hammond.