The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"TOWER HEIST"

Tower Heist
Someone needs to tell them they can't park that car here.

Tower Heist is silly, preposterous, and nonsensical. On the surface, these sound like bad qualities. The truth, though, is that there's nothing inherently wrong with them. What counts is how a movie uses these qualities. If a film establishes its own internal logic and sticks with it, such things are just fine. Tower Heist does exactly that. The movie clues you in from the beginning that it intends to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and while there may be a real-world basis to its plot, the execution will be all in good fun.

Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, the building manager of a swanky New York high rise. Years earlier, he asked the penthouse resident, a billionaire financial investor named Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), to manage the pensions of his staff. It turns out that Shaw was engaged in some illegal business dealings and has pilfered away everyone's savings. Even worse, it appears as though a loophole might get him out of being convinced for his crimes. Determined to do right by his fellow employees, Josh comes up with a plan to break into Shaw's apartment, where he has reason to believe a safe containing $20 million is hidden inside a wall. Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, Matthew Broderick, and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) play his co-conspirators. Perhaps the most vital member of the team is Slide (Eddie Murphy), a wise-cracking, low-level thief Josh drafts into the cause. Since Shaw is placed on house arrest and his penthouse is guarded around-the-clock by FBI agents, breaking in takes some effort. On the plus side, Josh knows every operation of the building, giving him a bit of an edge.

The smart thing Tower Heist does is give us a villain worth hissing. We all know about the Arthur Shaws of the world and we probably all hate them. The movie nicely sets up the dynamic of decent, hard-working people taking on a greedy, unscrupulous Master of the Universe. It's hard not to get sucked in by that, especially since Alda is so good at playing an immoral swine without teetering over into caricature. What happens is that we really want to see this guy get what's coming to him, and so we buy into the heist, even when it is less than realistic. (And, boy, is it ever unrealistic!) Director Brett Ratner gives the proceedings a light, breezy pace. When things get complicated as things always do Ratner seems to be having the most fun. There's a whole sequence involving people and objects dangling from the building that is so amusingly staged, the lack of logic scarcely matters. Same goes for a sequence set in an elevator shaft.

The cast is uniformly likeable. Ben Stiller dials down his usual jittery screen persona to play a character with guts and confidence. The actor has always seemed to possess an inner sense of anger; that trait is put to good use here, since Josh is driven by righteous anger. Michael Pena earns laughs by playing his character with a mixture of enthusiasm and confusion, while Gabourey Sidibe is all hilarious attitude. The big news, however, is that Eddie Murphy seems to be channeling Eddie Murphy again. After more than a decade of sleepwalking through watered-down comedies (The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Meet Dave) and lame kiddie flicks (Imagine That, Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion), Murphy finally seems engaged in being funny again. He looks alive on screen, projecting the kind of sass that is reminiscent of his work in 48 HRS and Beverly Hills Cop. He doesn't have a whole lot of screen time, and his character kind of gets toned down in the third act, but it's wonderful to see him recapturing some of the old magic.

Asking too many questions causes Tower Heist to fall apart; thankfully, it provides so much fast-paced fun that one doesn't necessarily feel compelled to bother with questions. I enjoyed seeing all these big stars playing around. I also liked the catharsis of watching blue collar workers get revenge against a white collar criminal. The film doesn't take itself too seriously. It exists simply to entertain, to milk an irresistible concept for all its worth. I laughed, I got caught up in the scheme, and I felt a sense of catharsis at the conclusion. Tower Heist is goofy in a really, really delightful way.

( out of four)


Tower Heist is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.


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