Like a parole party with an open bar, Brett Ratner's Tower Heist is plenty of fun as long as you don't start asking too many questions. With the Occupy Wall Street movement making headlines all across the country, it's a star-powered revenge fantasy that's sure to whip up the righteous indignation of the typical middle-class moviegoer, but despite some hearty laughs and dizzying thrills once the caper gets under way, the screenplay by Ocean's Eleven scribe Ted Griffin and occasional Ratner collaborator Jeff Nathanson (Rush Hour 2 and 3) feels rushed and slipshod. And though less-picky viewers may see that shortcoming as par for the course for your typical popcorn flick, those who value at least scant attention to detail will likely become too distracted to lose themselves in the fun.
Financial giant Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) has just been placed under house arrest in his luxury New York City penthouse for cleaning out his investors to the tune of two billion dollars. Meanwhile, on the other end of the financial spectrum, Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) earns a modest living as the manager of The Tower, the luxurious building where Shaw resides. Upon learning that the Tower staffers who entrusted Shaw with their retirement funds are about to lose their life savings, and that the thief will likely get off scot-free, Josh convinces a small group of Tower employees that Shaw has stashed $20 million dollars somewhere in his opulent penthouse, and that it's theirs for the taking if they can just slip past security. With dim-witted concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck), undereducated electrical engineer Enrique (Michael Peña), safecracking maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), and downtrodden former resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) to back him up, Josh recruits crafty swindler Slide (Eddie Murphy) to help get their money back. Though the security in Arthur's condo is unusually tight, between Josh's knowledge of the building and Slide's skills, this ragtag gang of criminals might just have what it takes to get the job done.
When it comes to enjoying movies, there's a fine line between casual suspension of disbelief and outright gullibility. Though screenwriters Griffin and Nathanson do a respectable job of setting up the characters and the situation -- even being somewhat meticulous in the opening scenes -- their grip on the material starts to slip just as the action should be hitting its stride. Though Ratner does his best to maintain momentum as the protagonists put their plan into action, occasional plot details bleed into blind leaps of faith that continually jar us out of the movie's spell. Those details may not register as fatal for most, but they are shortcomings that prevent the comedic elements of Tower Heist from being as funny as they should be and the caper elements from being as tense as the writers likely intended.
Fortunately for the more forgiving, Tower Heist still has one redeeming quality: an immensely talented comic cast that works hard to smooth over the occasional lapse in logic. With Stiller as the everyman nucleus at the center of this criminal cell, the supporting players' quirks become more pronounced -- especially in the cases of co-stars Murphy and Broderick. Murphy's motormouthed hustler recalls his breakthrough characters in R-rated comedies like 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop (though noticeably toned down to PG-13 standards), and he does a commendable job of recapturing the energy that helped launch him to stardom. And as the former Wall Street hotshot who took a big fall, Broderick plays defeated so well that we can't help but laugh when he gets a second wind of confidence late in the film. Alda, meanwhile, manages to infuse his Bernie Madoff-inspired villain with an initial likability that makes the character all the more diabolical once the benevolent mask finally comes off, and Precious veteran Sidibe does her best at maintaining a credible Jamaican accent in a role that would have worked perfectly well without it.
Though fairly pedestrian throughout most of the setup, composer Christophe Beck's score does hit a few playful notes as the tension starts to rise, occasionally recalling David Shire's memorable score for the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
In the climactic scenes of Tower Heist, the amateur burglars hang precariously from the top levels of The Tower, clinging desperately to their treasure while working frantically to avoid a fatal fall. Watching the film, one gets the impression that the screenwriters found themselves in a similar position while attempting to dream up a surprise twist that would yield a happy ending. If only the real world operated like the one in Tower Heist, and the talent behind the scenes matched the talent onscreen, perhaps audiences would have actually gotten a heist comedy that was really worth cheering about.