Tower Heist

Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller and "Tower Heist" director Brett Ratner.

The audience with whom I saw “Tower Heist” this past Saturday clearly enjoyed the film.  They laughed at the one-upmanship in the film’s dialogue, as the characters verbally topped one another throughout.  They were captivated by the film’s climactic sequence involving the movement of a large, heavy object (not to be revealed here) down the side of the film’s fictional building, “The Tower,” actually “Trump Tower.”   Of course this event, occurring in broad daylight, in a well-trafficked part of upper Manhattan, during the Thanksgiving Day Parade no less, is seen by no one.

As of this writing, “Tower Heist” had topped the Friday box office figures, taking in an estimated 8.2 million.  It is expected to make an industry disappointing 24 million for the weekend (we should all suffer such short falls).  The real disappointment though is not in how much money “Tower Heist” makes, or does not make, but in how this movie has sold out its audience.  Many will come away from “Tower Heist” thinking that they have seen a really good heist picture.  For the cost of some zinging dialogue and a CGI (computer graphics imaging) created set piece, Director Brett Ratner (the “Rush Hour” movies) and his team of no less than five writers, have bought their audience cheap.  Well, maybe not “cheap” in a monetary sense, as “Tower Heist” did cost a reported 85 million, but cheap in an aesthetic sense.

To begin with “Tower Heist” has next to no suspense.  The premise is that a group of former, and some current, employees of an exclusive high security tower decide to burgle one of the building’s apartments.  The apartment is owned by a Bernie Madoff inspired character, Arthur Shaw, (played with snarling menace by Alan Alda).  Shaw has taken the building’s employees’ pension fund.  Our heroes suspect that he has a large amount of money hidden in his apartment.  For a high security building it is amazing how easily these burglars are able to gain entry.  According to “Tower Heist” all it takes to distract a high-level security team is a parade and an issue of “Playboy.”

What follows is a “paint by numbers” logic defying heist, which goes according to the story’s most extreme convenience.  When it is revealed how Shaw has hidden his ill-gotten gains, yes it is clever…for about a second.  However, if one applies any thought, it makes no sense that a character with Shaw’s high level of financial sophistication would hide his money this way.

Cast highlights include Alda and Eddie Murphy.  The latter plays, well, Eddie Murphy, in the form of a character named Slide.  Slide is the cool, loud, street smart, trash talking, experienced African American criminal who teaches the, largely white, “nebbishy” gang of would be criminals (which includes Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick) how to be crooks.  While Murphy is certainly perfect for the role, he does not break new ground.  Considering how infrequently this talented actor and comedian appears in films, it is a missed opportunity.  While I am on the subject, what has happened to Broderick?  He used to be funny, good looking and charismatic.  Now all he seems to play are middle-aged nerds.

My advice.  Your “Tower Heist” transportation and ticket money will be better spent going to your Netflix account, or library, to see the following well done, heist movies:  “The Anderson Tapes” (1971), in which burglars attempt to rob a rich New York apartment building.  Sound familiar?  “The Taking of Pelham 123” (1974), in which armed men hi-jack a subway car and hold the passengers for ransom.  “The Killing” (1956), a race track heist. “Who’s Minding the Mint” (1967), a goofy but clever heist film about a group trying to break into the U.S. Mint to print up money.  Like “Tower Heist,” it is a comedy as well as a heist film.

I could add other titles to the list that are more worth your time and money than the film under consideration.  The four examples, above, are much more suspenseful, infinitely better thought out, made and written.  They also feature characters who are much more interesting than those in “Tower Heist.”

Tower Heist, Director Brett Ratner, 2011, Universal Pictures104 minutes, PG-13


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on November 6, 2011, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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