Full disclosure: I cannot stand Brett Ratner. ‘Red Dragon‘ is the only of his films that I find worthy of re-watching. Even before learning that ‘Tower Heist’ was a Ratner movie, I dreaded it based on that awful trailer. When news broke that theater owners were up in arms due to the film streaming on-demand concurrently with its theatrical release, I remarked: “No wonder. He’s trying to recoup as much money from this turd as quickly as he can.” But upon finally screening the movie, I’m surprised to discover that it’s actually not as bad as it looked. Mind you, it’s not great, but if you can trudge through a terrible first act, you’ll actually find the other two make for a fluffy and funny mindless comedy.
Imagine ‘Ocean’s Eleven‘ with revenge. Wait, that’s what ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ already is – a heist movie fueled by revenge. Scratch that. Imagine ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ where the crew attempting the heist is trying to steal back money they lost in a Ponzi scheme from a bastard (Alan Alda) under house arrest in the penthouse of his New York City high-rise. He cannot leave his apartment (there are two FBI agents at the door at all times) and is under constant video surveillance. Ben Stiller plays the bumbling ringleader. Eddie Murphy is the experienced criminal. Casey Affleck is the kinda-dumb soon-to-be father who honestly needs the cash. Gabourey Sidibe plays ‘Precious‘ with a Jamaican accent. Matthew Broderick plays an evicted tenant who has nothing to do with the Ponzi scheme and no justification for committing this crime. Michael Peña plays a guy with no real skill set or defined purpose. And Téa Leoni plays the FBI agent trying to put Alda away for good.
Because there are so many characters in this ensemble piece, the drawn-out first third of the film is slow and boring. Not until Murphy enters the plot full-time do the jokes stop falling flat and the movie actually becomes enjoyable. That almost seems impossible given how bad the beginning is. Murphy, who hasn’t been funny in a live-action role since 1999’s ‘Bowfinger’, is back and just as entertaining as he was in his classics ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, ’48 Hours’, ‘Coming to America’ and ‘Trading Places’. Stiller plays the same character he always plays, so it’s Murphy, Affleck, Broderick and Peña that carry this movie comically. And believe me, that’s all ‘Tower Heist’ has going for it. Take away the comedy from those four men and you’ve got nothing but a Razzie contender.
‘Tower Heist’ isn’t anything to rush out and see this weekend, but it’s a whole lot better than it looks and more entertaining than most of Ratner’s movies.