Project helmsmen Brian Grazer (producer) and Brett Ratner (director) have put their hands out on front street, with the title telling you plainly what to expect going in, and boasting one of the most high-profile casts in recent memory.
While each actor is not best known for his comedic chops, casting three of the biggest comedy stars from their respective decades – Alan Alda, Eddie Murphy, and Ben Stiller – makes up for it.
Josh Kovacs (Stiller) starts us off with his 4:30 a.m. routine, which is mirrored by that of billionaire investor Arthur Shaw (Alda), proprietor of the penthouse suite in the New York high-rise Josh manages.
The pair meet in the middle for an early morning online chess match (a harbinger of things to come) before meeting in person at the Tower, where Josh fastidiously launches into his workday routine, behind the scenes in the personal lives of the super rich building inhabitants.
He does so alongside the likes of inattentive concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck), (predictably) sassy maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe, of “Precious” fame), and not-ready-for-upper-class bellhop Dev'reaux (Michael Pena), a new hire forced upon Josh by his boss Mr. Simon, played by Judd Hirsch in a disappointingly humourless turn.
With the help of FBI Agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), we discover that Mr. Shaw is accused of high-scale investment fraud having stolen $2 billion, including the pensions belonging to the Tower's staff.
Josh, along with a few aforementioned staff accomplices and Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a Tower dweller and former Wall Street investor on the edge of eviction as a result of the financial crisis, decide to take matters into their own hands and rob Shaw for all that he's still worth.
All rookies in the art of crime, Josh enlists the help of his street-wise thief neighbour (and, conveniently, childhood acquaintance,) Slide, a role written for Murphy in the best possible ways, which vividly and hilariously recalls his Beverly Hills Cop/48 Hours glory days.
Fearing the script was reading like an Ocean's Eleven knock-off, Ratner hired Ted Griffin, Ocean's Eleven screenwriter, to take a pass, a strangely backwards effort with backwards results. We get the feeling the film's humour was injected solely by the actors’ virtuous performances, while the filmmakers focused on crafty plot twists.
Despite a sense of predictability that permeates the film, as well as conspicuous shortcomings in the tension department, the heist aspects are pulled off quite well, which in turn play oil to the humour's water. The filmmakers were unable to combine the two elements in any moment, which left the latter to vastly outshine the former.
Alda manages to turn his effortless sincerity on its head, to find effortless taunting of Stiller's character on the other side of the coin; he impresses us with his ability to play an insufferable asshole while only adjusting his performance in the smallest degree.
In essence, Alda lets our real life experience (and hatred) of Mr. Bernie Madoff – the man after whom Arthur Shaw is most obviously modelled – do all of the work for him.
This context is only vaguely poignant; it is obvious that the issues were not as near and dear to the hearts of the filmmakers as they were in other recent films gesturing towards the economic crisis, such as last week's In Time, or in a more appropriate comparison, last year's The Other Guys.
This is the kind of big budget comedy where the trailer – heck, the poster even – tells you everything you need to know. What Tower Heist promises, it delivers; and you can take that to the bank.