‘Tower Heist’ movie review: middling Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller heist comedy

Amiable, half-likable, moderately amusing: in other words, Tower Heist is a typical Brett Ratner comedy. A little better than the last Rush Hour film, about on a par with After the Sunset. While entertaining enough by those standards, the film isn’t invested enough in the particulars to deliver a rousing heist, nor is it consistently funny enough to work as a straight comedy.

But Tower Heist does have its small pleasures, which include a return to comedic form for Eddie Murphy (this is the funniest he’s been since Bowfinger, more than a decade ago) and at least one memorable stunt: that of Steve McQueen’s 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso dangling by a thread from the top of the Trump Tower during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

But Murphy is relegated to supporting status here (and all but forgotten by the end), and while those shots of the Ferrari may linger in your mind after the film is over, you may struggle to remember much else about Tower Heist, other than (maybe) you had a decent enough time watching it.

Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, building manager at ‘The Tower’, an exclusive NYC apartment building that caters to every need of the elite, including wealthy Wall Street man Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a thinly-disguised Bernie Madoff who occupies the penthouse suite. When news of Shaw’s Ponzi schemes hit, building employees discover that their pensions – which Shaw invested as a favor to Josh – are all but gone.

Josh has a few choice words for Shaw (and a golf club to the Ferrari), and he’s promptly fired. But he returns with a plan: With the help of some other ex-employees, and childhood friend Slide (Murphy), now a petty thief and career criminal, Josh and company will break into Shaw’s apartment – now under police watch – and abscond with the millions he must have stashed away.

The cast is game: besides Stiller, Murphy, and Alda, we have Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, and Matthew Broderick as Josh’s cohorts, Judd Hirsch as his manager, Téa Leoni as the FBI agent investigating the Shaw case, and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) as a Jamaican maid. 

It’s pleasant enough to see all these familiar faces, but we wish they were given something more to do. Only Murphy and (to a lesser extent) Broderick, who has some good comic timing, manage to make much of an impression.

In contrast with director Ratner’s recent PR nightmare (which has resulted in his resignation as producer of next year’s Oscar telecast, followed shortly by Murphy bailing as presenter), Tower Heist is pleasant, easygoing, non-confrontational entertainment which (like In Time) hits at just the right time given the current Occupy Wall Street protests. 

A notch below Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films and superior 2011 comedies like Horrible Bosses and Bridesmaids, it’s a good-enough timewaster if your options are limited.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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