The action comedy Tower Heist has the perfect "generic brand" title to match its Teflon blandness.
Directed by oft-maligned Hollywood insider Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), this Ocean's Eleven pastiche grabs one of that 2001 film's writers (Ted Griffin) and one of its stars (Casey Affleck). Though only one other scribe gets credit for the final script (Jeff Nathanson), at least six other writers put their fingerprints on it, and yet, the results are obvious and comedically anemic.
But Tower Heist may well become a popular hit, not only due to its marquee stars (Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy), but its theme of 99-percenters angrily striking back against a slimy, lying, hypocritical 1-percenter.
Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the super-competent building manager of a deluxe apartment in the sky, called simply "The Tower." Josh's tight ship hits an iceberg when he learns that penthouse tenant Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) —who agreed to invest the pensions of the building's staff—has committed securities fraud "of epic proportions," losing the pensions in the process. When he becomes convinced that Shaw has $20 million in cash hidden in the apartment, Josh hatches a scheme to break in, steal the money and play Robin Hood to his devastated co-workers (fun fact: Stiller's salary for the picture was $15 million).
In a development that Ratner keeps trying to convince us is madcap, Josh gathers a crew of downtrodden misfits to carry out the heist, including Affleck's concierge, recently evicted bank victim Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), new elevator operator Dev'reaux (Michael Peña), and Jamaican-born maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). As in the recent Horrible Bosses, the supposed criminal ringer is an African-American sought out by a white novice: Josh recruits jive-talking jailbird Slide (Murphy) to guide the operation's breaking and entering.
What nominally works in Tower Heist consists of a couple of action scenes of big-budget verisimilitude: a brief but adrenalized chase through Manhattan and the extended climax involving the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso once owned by Steve McQueen. Ratner is nothing if not slick, but occasional verbal filigrees by Stiller and facial gymnastics by Murphy only make us long to be watching those movies that put them to better use (ditto the supporting cast, perhaps particularly Broderick reprising his uptight shtick from The Producers). Notwithstanding my fancy use of the word "versimilitude," seeing isn't believing in Tower Heist, which makes no attempt at airtight heist specifics. The picture slides down the gullet like greasy-spoon fare, except it's neither taste-ful nor filling.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]