A group of condo tower employees live the dream of everybody who watched the financial crisis dissolve their retirement funds in Tower Heist, a surprisingly not-bad regular-dude action movie.
Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) takes his job as manager of the luxury condo building known as The Tower just off Central Park in Manhattan very seriously. The rich residents are paying not just for top-priced real estate, he tells new employee Enrique (Michael Peña), but for top-notch service. That means knowing birthdays, knowing where to get someone’s favorite items and knowing when to tell the guy with the curvy blonde “visitor” that his wife is on the way home from the airport. Josh even plays online chess with Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the uber-rich investor who owns the penthouse. So concerned with guests is Josh that when Arthur appears to have been grabbed by some delivery people, he springs into action. Taking after the van on foot to stop the kidnapping of his resident, Josh is eventually stopped by Special Agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), who, along with her fellow agents, stops the van and tells Josh what he has just witnessed was not a kidnapping but an attempt to flee. Arthur is arrested and charged with defrauding his many investors (sound familiar?) including the pension fund for the workers at the Tower.
Josh is convinced that it’s all a mistake, that Arthur is innocent and will make everything right. But then he learns that doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson) also invested his savings with Arthur, probably after Arthur already knew his house of cards was falling down. Josh goes to confront Arthur and is fired for his trouble, along with Enrique and Josh’s brother Charlie (Casey Affleck), who both accompanied Josh to the showdown. Determined to make things right by the people he used to manage, Josh gathers Enrique, Charlie, former foreclosed Tower resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and a thief from Josh’s neighborhood, Slide (Eddie Murphy), and plans a burglary. The target: a cache of money that Claire is certain Arthur is hiding somewhere in his penthouse.
The first nice surprise in Tower Heist is that it’s not nearly as dopey and broad as the trailer suggests. I was expecting, I don’t know, Night at the Museum or something. But Tower Heist has more going on. The regular guy trying to pull off an elaborate crime is a decent setup but plenty of decent setups can go wrong. Here, some combination of restraint, solid performances and good pacing makes it work.
The performances are the other nice surprise in Tower Heist. I found myself thinking “wow, it’s really fun to watch Casey Affleck.” His Charlie is a nice guy but not as ambitious or as smart as Josh. Affleck is good at playing guys like that without turning them into one-note cartoons. Also not cartoony was Murphy, who can go so big as to overtake a movie sometimes. Here, his Slide is funny, sure, but also with a devious side. Stiller can also suffer from the movie problem, but he doesn’t let the role or some of the script’s more goofy lines get away from him. Broderick brings a great shlubbiness to his role as a formerly upper-middle-class financial worker who is now barely existing, sans family, at a sad motel. Even Leoni, who I don’t think I’ve seen in a while, is believable in her role and interesting to watch to such a degree that I think it’s time someone consider developing some TNT procedural drama for her.
The other breakout supporting character here is Gabourey Sidibe, who plays a maid with a fast-expiring worker’s permit looking for a quick marriage to help her stay in the U.S. If all you know of Sidibe is her role in Precious, this role lets you see where her real talent may lie — comedy. As is also shown in her role on The Big C, Sidibe knows how to give her characters muscle and heart and a kind of girliness.
I don’t want to oversell this movie; it’s not the greatest comedy you’ll ever see, not the best caper movie. But it is a nice understated (for its genre) mix of those things and an entertaining ride. B-
Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content. Directed by Brett Ratner with a screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson and a story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Ted Griffin, Tower Heist is an hour and 44 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures.