Everybody wants the financial crisis and its party-guest-that-won't-leave recession to be over, but now I'm especially anxious for the economy to right itself. Otherwise, more movies like Tower Heist are going to be made.
A big-star caper about a disgruntled gang of sad sacks plotting to rob a Madoff-style fat cat who's lit off with their savings, Tower Heist comes from Brett Ratner (one of Hollywood's fattest cats), applying a polished, populist sheen to an Ocean's Eleven-ish split-second-timing, safecracking vehicle.
The setting is "the most expensive apartment building in North America," a Trumpian condo on Central Park West where manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) oversees a crack crew of maids, maintenance guys, doormen, elevator operators, and concierges. When the Tower's richest resident, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), is arrested by the feds for fraud, Kovacs has to tell his staff that the penthouse-dwelling investor had been handling their pensions.
What's left? Nothing.
The veteran doorman (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is so bummed he tries to throw himself in front of a subway. And so a plot, born of revenge - and the certitude that Shaw has millions stashed in his apartment - is born. But how are Kovacs, concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck), new employee Enrique (Michael Pena), and a failed, foreclosed investment banker (a doughy Matthew Broderick) going to pull off this job? Not a one has a clue on the ins and outs of B and E.
So Kovacs seeks the guidance of Slide, a fast-talking street mug from Queens with an impressive arrest record. Eddie Murphy, wearing a do-rag and a comically contemptuous scowl, plays the guy with more fire and flair than we've seen from the star in quite a while. A scene with Slide ordering his motley gang of amateurs to prove their mettle by lifting $50 worth of merchandise from retailers in a mall is amusing, and his exchanges with Precious' Gabourey Sidibe (she's a maid with a Jamaican accent and safecracking chops) are charged with comic innuendo.
Devoting more time to the setup than to the follow-through, Tower Heist doesn't really build suspense so much as it builds impatience - for the thing to be over. Tea Leoni, trying out some quasi-New York intonations, is an FBI agent assigned to the Shaw case, who then finds herself in a romantic assignation with Stiller's character. The heist itself is set for Thanksgiving Day, with the Macy's Parade and its giant balloons providing distraction.
In fact, a sign of the level of sophistication that Stiller and company - and Ratner and company - are operating on: The timing of the break-in hinges on the assumption that the Tower's security team will drop everything when the big Snoopy float trundles down Central Park and stops at their door.