Back in New York City: All-star cast hits stride in Tower Heist

by Mark Burger

The breezy, enjoyable Tower Heist ( ) ranks as one of director Brett Ratner’s best, most purely pleasing films to date. It’s neither deep or profound, but it allows its 24-karat cast to mine every laugh — and maybe a few extra — from the self-titled concept.

Alan Alda, at his cheerfully smarmy best, plays Wall Street tycoon Arthur Shaw, whose mega-buck empire comes crashing down amid allegations of financial impropriety and fraud. Temporarily sentenced to house arrest by FBI agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), the house in question is Shaw’s priceless penthouse atop the Tower, Manhattan’s most famous home to the rich and wealthy.

The Tower staff, headed by manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), is further alarmed to realize that Shaw has invested (or more likely embezzled) their financial portfolios on top of the other lost millions. Theirs being the smallest account — Shaw was being “nice” in taking it on — they’re likely to never see their hard-earned retirement funds ever again.

A subsequent and understandable display of temper in Shaw’s apartment (the victim being Shaw’s prized possession: a red Ferrari that once belonged to Steve McQueen) costs Josh his job, at which point he becomes obsessed (a Stiller specialty) with the additional money he’s convinced Shaw has hidden somewhere in the penthouse.

Like the title says, a caper is in the offing, with Josh the “mastermind” of a team that includes a number of current and ex-Tower staffers (Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, Gaborey Sidibe and Stephen Henderson) and one disgruntled ex-tenant (an especially good Matthew Broderick). They being amateurs in the ways of crime, Josh solicits the help of neighborhood felon and childhood acquaintance Slide (producer Eddie Murphy) to mentor the robbery — which they decide to attempt amidst the confusion when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade rolls past the Tower on Thanksgiving morning.

Given the timeliness of the tale and the nation’s ongoing economic stall, it’s easy to root for this motley crew of wouldbe miscreants, especially against so unrepentant a foe as Shaw. What they lack in smarts — something in the area of considerable — they make up for in sheer drive. The mechanics of the heist are patently absurd, and in movies like this nothing ever goes according to plan, yet there’s a palpable suspense as to whether Kovacs and Company can pull it off.

Tower Heist’s most potent weapon is its ensemble cast, including Judd Hirsch as the Tower’s unctuous general manager. It’s also nice to see Murphy back in sharp form, having done an inordinate number of recent movies that find him in low comic gear, pairing him off with kids and animals (Daddy Day Care), CGI special effects (The Haunted Mansion) or multiple versions of himself (Norbit). Everyone brings something to the party.

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