Queens native Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) has managed one of the most luxurious and well-secured residences in New York City for more than a decade. Under his watchful eye, nothing goes undetected. In the swankiest unit atop Josh's building, Wall Street titan Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is under house arrest after being caught stealing two billion from his investors. The hardest hit among those he defrauded? The tower staffers whose pensions he was entrusted to manage. With only days before Arthur gets away with the perfect crime, Josh's crew turns to petty crook Slide (Eddie Murphy) to plan the nearly impossible...to steal what they are sure is hidden in Arthur's guarded condo. Though amateurs, these rookie thieves know the building better than anyone. Turns out they've been casing the place for years, they just didn't know it.

Comedy dream team phones in promising premise.

The comedic potential of a film that features the actors who played Greg Focker, Axel Foley, Ferris Bueller and TV’s 'Hawkeye’ Pierce is off the chart; that it’s directed by Brett Ratner, the (admittedly, self-proclaimed) king of modern action-comedies only increases the level of anticipation.

That Tower Heist should ultimately prove so mediocre, despite the frantic efforts of a talented cast, makes for one of the most unsatisfying trips to the movies in quite a while. Forty-somethings who are dragged away from their home theatres in the hope their teenage comedy idols will re-invigorate the heist genre will leave wishing they had waited for the Blu-ray release; teens won’t know who half this cast is, nor care for the daft, meagre, yet overly-complicated plot.

Ben Stiller plays blue-collar hero Josh Kovacs, the head of security for a Manhattan apartment block that houses charming, if slightly slimy, investment magnate Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). When it’s revealed Shaw has fleeced dozens of working-class Joes out of their life savings, including most of Kovac’s colleagues but, thanks to petty legal loopholes, will avoid prosecution, Kovac flips out and trashes the old man’s penthouse suite, and is one of a group of committed workers fired by Shaw out of retribution. So Kovacs teams up with penniless tenant Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), disillusioned lift-man Enrique (Michael Pena), father-to-be front-desker Charlie (Casey Affleck), and small-time criminal Slide (Eddie Murphy), to set in motion a plan to nab the millions of dollars that Shaw keeps hidden in his apartment.

One can’t help but feel there must have been a little more meat on the bones of the script at some point. Alda’s Shaw is very obviously based on Ponzi scheme mega-crook Bernie Madoff; the blows dealt to the working class characters seem specifically constructed to reach out to the good, honest, hard-working cinema-goer who may have been shafted by the GFC and the crooked hand of money-market manipulators.

Ratner simply plops all that nuance on the screen in the film’s first act then abandons it. He’s on deck for the heist stuff, pure and simple; by the time our would-be robbers are lowering a car made of gold down the side of the apartment above the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, you know you are at the mercy of a director who revels in the technical challenges of filmmaking but has little regard for subtext or potential satire.

Stiller effortlessly (or lazily?) does his Night at the Museum straight-man schtick; Murphy, Alda and Broderick make the most of their parts. (Broderick has the film’s best line when asked what he plans to do now that he’s borderline destitute). Hollywood’s great unused leading lady, Tea Leoni, adds credibility as the Federal Agent investigating Shaw; her drunken scenes opposite Stiller offer the film’s best character-driven interaction.

Films like Tower Heist were de rigueur when Murphy and Broderick were true A-listers; Ratner has been very vocal regarding his formative years as a film fan, when jaunty buddy-driven escapades like 48 Hours (1982) and Lethal Weapon (1987) were audience favourites (in truth, Tower Heist is closer to Peter Yate’s 1972 romp The Hot Rock, starring Robert Redford). There is enough in Ratner’s film to bring back good memories of better movies, but nothing to make it particularly memorable in its own right.

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1 hour 44 min
In Cinemas 26 December 2011,
Wed, 04/25/2012 - 11