Directed by: Brett Ratner
Premise: The employees of a distinguished New York apartment complex plan to rob a wealthy tenant after the employees discover they were defrauded by the tenant’s Ponzi scheme.
What Works: Tower Heist is a wildly uneven movie but the scenes that work, which are mostly the dramatic ones, have a lot going for them, mostly due to the performances by the actors. Ben Stiller is primarily known to audiences as a comedian but his on-screen persona is usually that of the straight man, so he is able to do drama equally well. In Tower Heist he does a convincing job as the shift manager at the apartment complex; Stiller is a believable leader and he embodies a sense of responsibility and justice. This contrasts with Alan Alda’s performance as the corrupt businessman. Alda does some fine acting, being cordial and even friendly at the beginning of the movie but revealing cold, condescending, and even sociopathic qualities later on. The film also benefits from a small supporting performance by Stephen Henderson as an aging doorman. While Stiller embodies the ethos appeal of the film, Henderson embodies the pathos of the blue collar working man and he does so in a quiet and dignified way.
What Doesn’t: The fatal flaw that sabotages Tower Heist is its compromised execution. It is important for stories to set their tone in the opening, stay consistent with that tone through the conclusion, and make sure that the tone is unified in all the elements of the film, from the lighting and set design to the performances and the musical score. Tower Heist begins as a Marxist working man’s tale and when it gets serious the film is grave enough that it could be a full-fledged drama or least a very dark comedy. For example, one of the elder employees of the hotel attempts suicide after finding his life savings have vanished and the conflict between Stiller and Alda’s characters quickly escalates with serious legal and moral implications. But after staking out this very serious tone early on in the film, Tower Heist attempts to transition into a screwball comedy. The story introduces Eddie Murphy playing an ex-con who the employees turn to in planning the heist. Murphy resorts to his “loud” routine seen in films like Bowfinger and while this brand of Murphy’s comedy has been funny in other films, it is not funny at all in Tower Heist because it is wrong for this picture. The problem here is not entirely Murphy’s fault; the role is poorly written and the character simply shouldn’t be in this movie. By adding him, the central cast list becomes bloated and the story is sent in directions that distract from the main conflict of the film. By the time Tower Heist gets to its climax, the story flails all over the place, randomly introducing twists and turns that don’t make any sense.
Bottom Line: Tower Heist is a film ruined by elementary storytelling mistakes. It’s too bad because the performances by some of the cast are very strong and buried somewhere in the rubble of the script is the kernel of a very good story. But Tower Heist is so incompetently directed and produced that all of those virtues are for nothing.
Episode: #364 (November 13, 2011)