Eddie Murphy’s original idea to unite several black comics on screen becomes a mediocre crime comedy in Tower Heist. This one-time watch popcorn flick has a few laughs thanks to lesser-known actors like Casey Affleck and Michael Peña. Murphy appears in rear form, sidestepping the past ten years of slapstick comedic roles for a straight character. Although he only takes center stage for a small part of the movie, it’s the segment with the most laughs. Murphy helps to bolster the energy whenever Matthew Broderick tries to suck the life out of the heist with his Debbie downer performance. When you’re not distracted by Gabourey Sidibe’s bad Jamaican accent or the odd romance that buds between Ben Stiller and Téa Leoni, you may even find yourself enjoying this Tower Heist. The Blu-ray comes with a few bonus features that warrant watching, especially two alternative endings that seem better than the original.
In Tower Heist, Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is the manager of a luxury condo. When he discovers that his staff’s retirement were stolen by one of the condo’s residents, a Wall Street crook running a Ponzi scheme, Kovacs decides to seek out retribution. He partners up with members of the hotel staff, a small-time burglar named Slide (Murphy) and Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick), a former financier who has come on hard times.
The joy of this movie is that it is not a comedy focused on middle-aged crisis, teen sexual exploits or drugs. Also, it’s not one of the more slapstick Will Ferrell-esque comedies that were the norm for the past decade. Instead, Stiller plays one of his most straight-laced characters to date. This is a topical comedy that explores what would happen if the downstairs staff had to revolt against the upstairs class that took advantage of it. Also, it does have a constant sense of thrill and action during the actual heist. You always feel as though something can go wrong.
Although the acting talent seems to be there, the script doesn’t take full advantage of the characters or actors. Broderick tries to be so emotional devoid that he’s just not funny. Typically the straight man gets the laughs, but in this case he only gets one laugh towards the end with Murphy. It also would have been optimal had director Brett Ratner chosen to let Sidibe perform as herself instead of a Jamaican immigrant. Her fake accent comes and goes between scenes and becomes a distraction. If you’ve seen her perform on The Big C in scenes opposite Laura Linney and Idris Elba, you would know that she could be humorous without needing the guise of a fake accent. As for Leoni, she plays an unbelievable federal agent who likes to break all the rules. She gets too comfortable with stiller too quickly and takes you out of the potential “reality” of this story.
Murphy really shines back in the straight character role. It’s a reminder of the smart roles he used to play back in the days of Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places and Coming to America. Instead of trying to fit a funny character type, he just works to augment the strange premise with his natural comedic instincts and reactions. He has several great moments where he reacts to lines from Stiller, such as when he first discovers the potential net value of the Tower hit. It’s a great fit for him and shows there is still comedy left in Murphy outside of Donkey from Shrek.
The Blu-ray release comes with an ample supply of special features. The two alternate endings felt more satisfying than the actual ending to the movie. They flash forward to some months later. At the end of the day, it is a comedy so seeing the “happier” ending wouldn’t have hurt the movie. The Blu-ray also includes Rattner’s video diary of behind-the-scenes footage. You’ll see Donald Trump and the actors hanging out backstage. There is a three-part interview with Ratner and his NYU mentor Brian Grazer that goes into the history of the film and how it was eventually made.
Despite its flaws, Tower Heist is an entertaining film with a few thrills. This isn’t really a movie you’ll watch more than once, but it is worth watching once.