Monday, November 28, 2011

Tower Heist Crumbles at its Foundations

It’s two days since I saw Tower Heist and I haven’t thought of it once.  Not in annoyance, not for a smile.  Color me grumpy.  Granted, I’ve had a few other things of greater import on my mind, but a remembered smile or chuckle would have been welcome.

Generally speaking, I like Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, and I love Alan Alda.  And I like heist films.  Therein lies the problem, methinks.

The set up:  Alan Alda plays a sleazeball Wall Streeter named Arthur Shaw who rips off friends and foe alike à la Madoff, which is rather the more disturbing because he professes to be a Queens boy who worked his way up.  Gives Queens natives a bad name. Shaw is a slimy charmer who lives in the penthouse of the most expensive apartment building in New York City called just “The Tower.”  When he is arrested by the FBI for a Ponzi scheme, it comes out that building manager Ben Stiller had asked him to take the “small” account of the Tower’s workers’ pension fund.  Everything Shaw “invested” is allegedly gone, even the tiny retirement account of the beloved (of course ready to retire) doorman Lester played winningly by Stephen Henderson.  Now it’s personal.

Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the building manager, as an intelligent sad sack with a sad job. He thinks he has a relationship with Shaw, initially believing him to be falsely accused. When he figures it out, he loses his temper and his job, and starts to plot against the white collar criminal.  Josh recruits the dull Casey Affleck (sometimes underplaying is too subtle), Matthew Broderick as Mr. Fitzhugh, who’s so bland it’s uncomfortable to watch, and eventually some others.  He even calls upon a neighbor from Queens, a petty criminal called “Slide” played superficially by Eddie Murphy.  Superficial.  That’s a word that describes much of this film. 

That’s not always a bad thing, if the film were a fun romp, a mile a minute laugh fest.  But it’s not.  Some parts are excruciatingly slow, and one thing a heist comedy does not need is breathing room for the audience to wonder anything.

I could go point to point on the plot, and mathematically there’s nothing glaringly wrong with it.  Well, don’t think too hard.  The thing is, this is a heist film, and heist films require more than a serviceable plot, they need characters, charming oddballs, misfits, not just down-and-out victims.  Interesting characters.  Tower Heist misses the mark here since most of its characters come out bland, dull, perfectly nice people, one supposes (except for Alda, of course), and it’s not that we don’t sympathize and empathize with their plight, it’s not that we don’t care. 

It’s that they’re boring.  Even when people are dangling outside of a penthouse apartment window, there’s no tension in this film.  It’s clearly a feel good movie, slightly enlivened by Eddie Murphy’s irreverence for anything and anyone.

And Téa Leoni as the Queens-born FBI agent. She is very good, her timing perfect, and she’s wasted here.

Brought up on the likes of the late great Donald Westlake, I know I’m spoiled but I accept that not everybody is him.  Not everyone can write a dull dogsbody like Dortmunder and keep the story moving.  This film is barely amusing let alone funny, no one’s endearing.  Something’s wrong here, and since the actors are mostly competent, something’s crumbling at the very foundations of this tower of fluff.

I suspect the script by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, with a disappointing job by director Brett Ratner.

For pulling herself above her material, kudos to Téa Leoni.  I would like to say Alan Alda, but since he can play this role in this sleep, I’m afraid I’ve seen it before.

~  Molly Matera, signing off and wondering what went wrong.


  1. You write so darned well. But you really need to get a handle on comma splices and use semicolons or periods where you use those splicing commas! For example, see the c.s. buried in a string of commas in para 6: the comma after "serviceable plot".... One has to reread the sentence (never good for a reader and never good from a writer) to understand it! Geez Louise! You ought to know better!

  2. Thank you, I'll pay closer attention!

  3. Thank you for taking this so graciously. You are a class act. I mean only to help. Feel free to take this down!

  4. But in your thank you--lol--veddy clevah--you used a c.s! Assume it was intentional.