Check Out That Babe Across The Street
I have to admit the top attraction in this Brett Ratner film is the pairing of Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, two top drawer comedians with the latter probably having seen better days. Still, the trailer would have sold you that there's never enough of Murphy's trash talking, except that the best bits were already found within that preview clip, and the rest of Murphy's limited screen time never really made any further impact as far as tickling the funny bone is concerned.
Bankers and white collared criminals seem to be under the spotlight these days, with Johnnie To's Life Without Principle taking square aim at unscrupulous schemes banks employ to get that extra buck from the less than financially savvy, or in Margin Call, opening in theatres at the end of the year here, deals with folks in an investment bank during the brink of the financial crisis. In Tower Heist, the crux and the rationale for a group of ex-staff breaking and entering a high security Tower (Trump Tower standing in as a set) lie with its owner Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who had just about swindled all of their pension amounts, given that as employees, what better than to entrust one's savings to someone who's known to be a hotshot in Wall Street?
Perhaps it is this blind faith, and probably basic human greed in continuously wanting more, that these ordinary Joes and Janes become victims of fraud. I would suppose the plotting in Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Ted Griffin's story would probably have stemmed from a reaction to the recent debacles involving white collared criminals with the intent to swindle, and it can't hit closer to home than in recent years, highlighting at times the injustice served since men like Shaw command a network of high net worth and influential individuals, that it becomes almost like an old boys club in the way threats are made by those with power and the currency to wield that power, of the rich versus the working class.
And the working class got represented at the top of their food chain by Ben Stiller's building manager Josh Kovacs, who is just about the best manager there is, with structured rules set up to serve their well heeled customers and tenants in the building, with nothing left to chance and everything served up to perfection. From Lester the doorman (Stephen Henderson) to Odessa the chambermaid (Gabourey Sidibe) and new hire Enrique the elevator attendant (Michael Pena), Kovacs is that manager who would stand up for his workers, and take responsibility to account for what's essentially wrong, and has the moral courage to set things right, nevermind at personal cost. And this can be seen at the more compassionate level at which he handles tough situations, such as being given the dirty task to evict a tenant (Matthew Broderick),
But when it's time to get even on behalf of the honest folks against the dishonest owner, at costs of even breaking the law, here's when the film switches gears when Eddie Murphy's Slide, a minor felon, enters the picture, taking up the task to train robber wannabes made up of a rag tag crew into a real outfit, having the best surveillance there could be given ex-staff who knows everything about the building and its tenants inside out, with added complexity of having the police around since Shaw is put under house arrest. If one is expecting the usual heist movie formula, don't, since those elements get touched upon early, with shifting loyalties thrown in to sweeten the mix. Eddie Murphy is at his funniest in a long while, and it's a tad pity his role becomes rather anonymous during the last third of the film.
While there were some story elements that were half baked, like the unlikely romance between Kovacs and Tea Leoni's FBI agent Claire Denham which went nowhere, and huge plot elements that require that suspension of disbelief - even the film copped out by not having to detail how certain things got done to avoid copycats in real life - that made everything a tad too convenient. The centerpiece action sequence of sorts involves an extended, elaborate stunt through the use of elevators, but that in itself raises some questions with implausible answers with regards to weight, and just about how anyone, a team even, could have done what they did in that short a period of time.
But who cares? It worked on the very basics of its premise, and had it covered on the entertainment front. It could have been funnier if it had allowed Murphy to be unleashed without holding him back, and given him a lot more screen time to do what he does best. The Stiller-Murphy axis just wasn't allowed time or bandwidth to fulfill its comical potential.