Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tower Heist

Directed by Brett Ratner.
2011. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Ben Stiller
Eddie Murphy
Alan Alda
Tea Leoni
Matthew Broderick
Casey Affleck
Michael Pena
Gabourey Sidibe
Judd Hirsch
Stephen Henderson

Every once in a while a movie does the impossible. Somehow, it simultaneously surpasses and fails to meet expectations. Such is the case with Tower Heist. It stars Ben Stiller as Ben Stiller. Well, not really, but you know his schtick. His character’s actual name is Josh Kovacs. He’s the building manager in swanky New York high-rise. It’s the type of place where people buy apartments for millions of dollars. TH also stars Eddie Murphy as his own real-life brother Charlie Murphy. Okay, not quite, but you get the idea. His character is name Slide. As the only criminal Josh knows, Slide gets recruited to help him rob one of the building’s tenants. Why? Arthur Shaw (Alda), one of the tower’s most prominent residents has been busted for running a Ponzi scheme. Wouldn’t ya know it? Josh trusted Mr. Shaw enough to have him invest all of his staff’s pensions with the promise of tripling their portfolios. With all that money down the drain, Josh is desperate to get it back. Why not organize a robbery of Shaw’s penthouse? Where else could the guy be hiding his stash? Of course, Josh and Slide can’t pull this off by themselves. This job requires a cast of zany accomplices. Broderick, Affleck, Pena and Sidibe fit the bill.

TH fails to meet our expectations mostly because of poor marketing. From the movie’s trailers, we’re to believe this to be a non-stop madcap comedy. Sure, there’s humor, but this isn’t saturated with jokes. Many of the jokes that are present are in those trailers. There are stretches where it’s downright serious. Financial problems are brought up and attacked, never made light of. In fact, on several occasions they drag the mood down. There’s just nothing funny about some poor sap deciding to end it all. Not only does TH not give us wall-to-wall laughter, it doesn’t even try.

Expectations are exceeded because it handles enough of the stuff besides the jokes fairly well. We begin to feel for these people and their quest. We hope they pull it off. Doing so becomes even more of an adventure than they bargained for. More importantly, we really hope someone gets to punch Alan Alda in the face. Due to all of this, our own feelings about crime are pushed aside. We’re squarely on the side of our rag-tag bunch of burglars. The ends justifies the means.

There are some issues with TH. Parts of it fel incredibly rushed. At various times we find ourselves wondering how someone knew, or did something or when a certain person started helping out. Making sense of these things may have required only a few more minutes of runtime. True, everything need not be spelled out for an audience, but things coming in from deep left field warrant explanation. There’s also a couple of blatant missed opportunities. Josh’s sister is married to one of the gang and nearing the end of a complicated pregnancy yet, we only meet for about ten seconds. In the movie’s first few minutes Odessa (Sidibe), a Jamaican immigrant with a soon expiring Visa, brings up her need for a man to marry so she can stay in the country. Nothing more of it is ever mentioned, even as the possibility of romance between she and Slide is dangled before us. Other plotholes abound.

Despite its shortcomings, the things TH does well, it well does really well. They keep us engaged. The crew and their plight gives us a vested interest. Stiller and Murphy are fine, but we’re more entertained by the supporting cast. Each has their time to shine and they take advantage. It’s a decent heist flick that gets some things right, some wrong and is miraculously both better and worse than we imagine.

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