Everyone's excited for the new Brett Ratner movie, right? Jonesing for another marginal action-comedy in the vein of Rush Hour 2? You're in luck! Tower Heist fits the bill, and despite its allusions to 2011 Wall Street turmoil, the familiar flick feels very much of that era. The Rat-man's latest is cookie-cutter entertainment at its most transient, but everyone likes cookies. Right?
In Tower Heist, Ben Stiller plays subservient chief of staff at a ritzy Central Park apartment complex — but when a tenant (Alan Alda) swindles him and his workforce out of their pensions, it's no more Mr. Nice Josh. He masterminds a robbery with the help of his concierge (Casey Affleck), an elevator operator (Michael Peña), a downtrodden former resident (Matthew Broderick), and a Jamaican cleaning woman (Gabourey Sidibe). Unschooled as they are in the art of the steal, Josh also employs the aid of petty criminal "Slide," (Eddie Murphy) who gives the crew a crash course in crime.
The cast of Tower Heist, anchored by Stiller, Alda, and the under-appreciated 'other' Affleck, is its greatest asset. Gabourey Sidibe pulls a Melissa McCarthy in a similar big girl supporting role, and as for Eddie Murphy — it's good to know that there's still a funny guy beneath the Norbit prosthetics. Granted, nobody's working with AAA material here, but their comic chemistry makes for some laugh out loud moments.
Conceived and written by Ted Griffin of Ocean's Eleven and Matchstick Men, Tower Heist strictly adheres to caper convention. Assemble the team, unfurl the plan, set said plan into motion, and wait for it all to come undone. It's a tried and true formula, which is ironic considering the risk its characters incur. There's even a heavy-handed chess metaphor about sacrificing one's Queen, but Griffin is a decidedly defensive player.
Then there's the Rat-factor. Poor Brett's an easy guy to hate. Called "Hollywood's Ad Impresario" by Businessweek, he's the dude who wants to make a Guitar Hero movie. He's a purely commercial filmmaker who's helmed competent but inferior follow-ups to beloved franchises like X-Men and Silence of the Lambs. And let's face it, he's kind of ugly. With Tower Heist, the director isn't flexing any artistic muscles, but he's got the mechanics down pat.
Plus, he's got the good sense to hire performers who probably don't need much direction. Guys like Stiller, Murphy, and Broderick are so well practiced that they're entertaining even when they're resting on their laurels. Similarly, Ratner's worked with cinematographer Dante Spinotti enough times to not have to concern himself with the visual aspects of filmmaking. Though the credits suggest otherwise, Ratner's role is nearer to producer than director.
Consequently, Tower Heist feels impersonal and even a bit disingenuous. After all, what could Brett Ratner, the privileged son of a Miami socialite turned blockbuster director, have in common with the working stiffs he portrays? It's easy to hate Ratner, but unfair to channel that negative energy at his work. With a good cast and decent material, Tower Heist is an amusing, inconsequential diversion that entertains and evaporates in the span of 100 minutes. And with a family friendly PG-13 rating, this cookie-cutter action-comedy is poised to make loads of dough.