Sunday, 4 December 2011


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

Given its release coinciding with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the similar sentiments at its core, one can probably overlook the irony of Brett Ratner's little-guy-strikes-back comedy, Tower Heist, starring $20 million men Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. They may not be the 1% but these comedians aren't exactly scraping by.

Then again, Stiller and Murphy are far more believable as a work-a-day hotel manager and a two-bit crim, respectively, than the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Those two, who can make anyone seem blue collar by comparison, populate Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy which Tower Heist may draw comparisons with if only because it revolves around a group of guys pulling off a robbery.

In the case of Josh Kovacs (Stiller), manager of The Tower, a luxury New York apartment building (and New York's Trump Tower in real life), it's a case of stealing back what's theirs. They being the employees of the hotel who've had their pensions embezzled by Wall Street king pin, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda, uncannily resembling a vulture), resident of the hotel and now under house arrest by the FBI for his fraudulent financial dealings.

Enlisting his brother-in-law, Charlie (Casey Affleck), newly-employed elevator operator, Enrique (Michael Pena) (who along with Kovacs lose their jobs when he angrily confronts Shaw), and long time Tower resident cum bankrupted squatter, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), Josh plans to break in to Shaw's penthouse apartment and steal $20 million he believes - thanks to a tip-off from FBI Special Agent, Claire Denham (Tea Leoni) - to be hidden somewhere within.

Murphy's Slide (think Shrek's Donkey fallen on hard times), a hustler living in Kovacs' neighbourhood, is the only criminal element the manager knows and is brought in as the team's theft expert, instructing them in the use of bobby pins to pick locks, and safecracking.

And that's where hotel housekeeper, Odessa (an amusing Gabourey Sidibe), comes in. The daughter of a locksmith back in her native Barbados, Odessa knows how to crack a safe (not to mention a skull if need be).

Murphy and Sidibe are the highlights of Tower Heist. Murphy delivers his best comic performance (outside of Shrek) since 1996's The Nutty Professor but with more in common with his wisecracking characters of the 1980s. While Sidibe, in a 180-degree shift from her Oscar-nominated turn in Precious (2009), gets to exercise her comedic chops (which viewers of TV's The Big C will already be aware of).

Tower Heist proceeds in a jovial tone which picks up pace (the film's set-up takes far too long) once the heist is in motion. Of course, nothing goes to plan and complications arise involving a car, an elevator shaft and a 100-storey drop when the situation dictates the gang think outside the square - literally.

It may not be the Khalifi Tower sequence from the recent Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, but those with an aversion to heights (or, like me, falling from them) may be more than a little nervous when Kovacs and Slide have to exit Shaw's penthouse via the window.

Tower Heist may not be a laugh riot, but fans of this kind of caper, and funny men Stiller and Murphy, shouldn't feel robbed if they plunk down their hard-earned for a ticket these holidays.

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