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Film review: 'Tower Heist' is just good, dumb fun

November 07, 2011|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • In this image released by Universal Pictures, from left, Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick and Gabourey Sidibe are shown in a scene from "Tower Heist."
AP Photo/Universal Pictures, David Lee

"Tower Heist" is one of the better dumb movies I've seen lately.  

It's good for some cheap laughs, which is fine because it promises nothing more than cheap laughs. A movie like this will never be mistaken for anything of legitimate high quality, but it far exceeds bad films with delusions of high quality.  

Movies like "Tower Heist" need to be graded on a curve, not based on how "good" they are, but on how fun they are. Of course, some movies are both "good" and fun, and this isn't quite one of those movies, but there's still plenty about it that's enjoyable.

Ben Stiller (star of many other good dumb movies) plays Josh Kovacs, manager of a ritzy apartment complex in the heart of Manhattan. The building is fully staffed with servants who cater to the wealthy residents. Other employees include a concierge (Casey Affleck), an elevator operator (Michael Pena), a maid (Gabourey Sidibe) and the world's friendliest doorman (Stephen McKinley Henderson).

Things are going fine for everybody until wealthy resident Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) gets busted by the FBI for financial malfeasance. Things get worse when we learn that Josh had turned the staff's pension fund over to Shaw and things get even worse still when we learn that the doorman had done the same with his life savings.  Josh can't stand to see Shaw still living a life of luxury on temporary house arrest and caring more about his prized Ferrari than a suicide attempt by the doorman.  He decides that he needs to get everybody's money back and to do that Shaw needs to be robbed.

Josh forms a ragtag team of disgruntled employees and a displaced tenant (Matthew Broderick). They still need someone with robbery experience, Josh quickly decides on his criminal neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy). Slide's arrival in the story marks the beginning of the funniest stretch of the film: the planning of the robbery.

 In these scenes the dialogue is sharp and the actors fill their roles to the best of their potential: Murphy as the dangerous one, Pena as the dumb one, Broderick as the lame one, Sidibe as the unpredictable one, and Stiller as the leader trying to hold everything together by a thread. The only dead weight is Casey Affleck, reminding us once again of where the talent went in his family.  

The Affleck character is at the center of an unnecessary, impractical conflict where he takes over as building manager and works against the team despite not having the respect of anybody with the power to give him the position.

The storyline could have easily been dropped in favor of giving more screen time to Shaw.  Alda does a terrific job as the villain and it's a shame that the film doesn't do more with the character. One subplot that does work is Josh's relationship with the FBI agent (Tea Leoni) in charge of Shaw's case. I can't remember the last time I saw a funnier onscreen couple.  

The climactic robbery sees the film fall into the same trap as many heist comedies; getting bogged down in the details of the action and forgetting to be funny.

 But on the whole, "Tower Heist" is an enjoyable enough film.  

It makes for a fun night at the movies and it's better for families than the barrage of R-rated comedies we've been hit with this year.  

It's a dumb movie, sure, but it doesn't go so far as to celebrate the fact that it's dumb.  It's just smart enough to be comfortable with how dumb it is.


Three Stars out of Five.  


"Tower Heist" is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.  Its running time is 104 minutes.



Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.  

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