[Screen It]


(2011) (Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy) (PG-13)

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Action/Comedy: A small group of people attempts to break into a luxury high-rise tower to steal money from the penthouse level investor who stole their money.
Josh Kovacs (BEN STILLER) is the manager of a luxury high-rise residence in Manhattan where he works for Mr. Simon (JUDD HIRSCH) making sure to fulfill all of owners' needs, wants and desires with nothing short of perfection and complete satisfaction. And the biggest client of all is wealthy investor Arthur Shaw (ALAN ALDA) who lives on the penthouse level.

Accordingly, Josh makes sure his staff -- that includes the likes of Charlie (CASEY AFFLECK), whose wife is eight months pregnant; housekeeper Odessa (GABOUREY SIDIBE); veteran doorman Lester (STEPHEN McKINLEY HENDERSON); receptionist Miss Iovenko (NINA ARIANDA) who's studying for the bar exam; and new elevator operator Enrique (MICHAEL PENA), among many others -- is always at the top of their game. He must also contend with having to kick out the occasional down-on-his-luck resident, such as Mr. Fitzhugh (MATTHEW BRODERICK).

Things take an unexpected turn, however, when FBI agent Claire Denham (TEA LEONI) shows up and arrests Shaw for securities fraud. He's then put under house arrest in his penthouse, but Josh must inform the staff that their pensions are now all gone, what with Shaw having handled them. When Josh can't take it anymore, he thrashes Shaw's prized convertible -- which he has inside his unit -- and ends up fired, as do Charlie and Enrique for just being there during the incident.

When Claire informs Josh that $20 million of Shaw's net worth have never been accounted for, Josh comes to believe it's likely hidden in a secret safe tucked away in a remodeled wall. Accordingly, he convinces Charlie, Enrique and Mr. Fitzhugh to join him in planning and carrying out a heist of that safe. But as they have no experience, Josh decides to bring in his former childhood classmate turned neighborhood criminal, Slide (EDDIE MURPHY), to teach them the ropes.

With the odds stacked against them, the unlikely team then sets out to rob Shaw and get their and the other tower employees' money back.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Considering all of the news coverage that's followed the sit-in protests on Wall Street and now beyond of Fall 2011, I can only imagine Hollywood and its minions are scrambling to make movies about that, be they realistic ones about the ninety-nine vs. one percent economic battle or yet the umpteenth retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale.

Until they arrive, we'll have to contend with two back-to-back major Hollywood releases that coincidentally have arrived during this time of the haves vs. have-nots turmoil. The first one was last week's "In Time," a sci-fi metaphor where time was the new currency and the film's hero went all Hood on the powers that be and tried to redistribute the accumulated seconds, minutes hours and so on to the less fortunate.

That's now followed by the slightly more believable yet still outlandish "Tower Heist" where Ben Stiller leads a not-so-merry band of criminal novices on a crazy mission of robbing $20 million from the penthouse of a likely corrupt investor who squandered away the pensions of the employees who work in that building.

I can only imagine that some studio hack really wanted to edit in some last minute footage of the protestors to make the flick more "timely." If that was the case, I can only say thank you Bret Ratner and/or anyone else who stood their ground and left the film intact, so that it can remain somewhat timeless and be enjoyed for what it intends to be.

And that's a surprisingly highly entertaining, star-studded caper that pretty much works from start to finish thanks to the work of Ratner (the "Rush Hour" movies) behind the camera, Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson on the keyboards pecking out the enjoyable tale and related dialogue, and the cast who pull all of that off with ease and aplomb. I can't say I had high hopes for the flick going in, but I found it quite a bit of fun for its 100-some minute runtime.

Considering the combined pedigree of Griffin and Nathanson (who, respectively, penned "Ocean's Eleven" and "Catch Me If You Can"), it shouldn't come as a surprise that they've applied the same sort of crime caper magic to this offering. Yes, the heist plan, its execution and the necessary audibles during it are outlandish and sometimes goofy. Yet, that's part of the charm, and that very quality goes a long way in mitigating any suspension of disbelief issues that could pop up for some viewers.

So does the return to form for a comedic actor who was once at the top of his game decades ago, but since has appeared in a number of mediocre to downright bad films. That performer, of course, is Eddie Murphy who segued from "Saturday Night Live" cast member to Hollywood superstar with "Beverly Hills Cop," "Trading Places" and "48 Hours."

The latter comes to mind after Stiller's character, as the manager of a residential high-rise, has just taken a golf club to the prized convertible owned by a Bernie Madoff inspired Wall Street investor smarmily played by Alan Alda. You see, the latter has swindled away all of the pension funds of the building's employees, thus causing Stiller to go all Jack Nicholson on the car. As a result, his character, along with those played by Casey Affleck and Michael Pena are fired.

Inspired by the drunken ramblings of the FBI agent (Tea Leoni) who's on the investor's case, the ex-building manager gets the idea to break into the man's penthouse residence, find and then steal $20 million that hasn't been accounted for. But since he and his team (that also includes a down-on-his-luck former resident played by Matthew Broderick) have no criminal experience, they need someone to show them the way.

Cue the prison cell scene where we hear someone belting out a falsetto rendition of The Police's "Roxanne" and a con being let out to help someone deal with the real bad guys. That, of course, was the scene from "48 Hours" (where Nick Nolte's character sprung Murphy's from the joint), but that similar setup here returns the actor back into his glory days and he makes the most of it. With the proper combo of gutsy bravado, street smarts and urban wise-crackery, Murphy runs wild with the character and it's a delight watching him back in form, especially as he interacts with Stiller and the rest of his cast-mates.

The pic loses a bit of steam whenever he's absent from the screen, but Ratner and company keep things moving along at a brisk, often quite funny and nearly always highly entertaining pace. And while nitpickers could find all sorts of faults with various aspects of the plot, this is the sort of film where one should turn off the doubts and just go with the flow.

While it might not be quite as highly entertaining as "Ocean's Eleven," and certainly isn't as slick and complicated, this is still a highly enjoyable diversion that hopefully will put Murphy back on track to being one of the industry's most beloved and reliable performers. "Tower Heist" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 1, 2011 / Posted November 4, 2011

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