The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, November 07, 2011

Tower Heist (2011)

What if disgruntled Bernie Madoff victims decided to rip him off? That's the basic set-up of this low-rent "Ocean's Eleven" caper film starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. The employees at an ultra-swank NY condo building invest their retirement and life savings with a sleazy stock manipulator (Alan Alda) and when he is revealed as a thief, are totally devastated. When the general manager (Stiller) learns that Alda may have salted away twenty million in cash in his apartment, the idea of ripping him off is pretty automatic.

He recruits a rag-tag group of former employees and residents (including Matthew Broderick and Gabourey Sidibe), but needs the help of an old friend (Eddie Murphy as a career criminal. Very good, but underused) to pull it all together. The climax, taking place during the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, involves various (very) hi-jinks and is pretty tense and funny, if not classic.

And here's the problem. It could have been. They actually had a set-up that could have gone all the way to classic, but despite six featured writers, is undercooked. The relationship between Stiller and Murphy wasn't really explored or arced, the relationship of race and class in America could have been a deeper subtext (as, for instance, it was in "Trading Places") and Murphy's arc is curiously flat, to the point that we aren't even certain what happened to him at the end.

That said, it is clever, and fun, a perfectly good way to spend a couple of hours. The performers are strong across the board, and the revenge scenario is lip-smacking good. With nods to classic capers like "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "Goldfinger," "Tower Heist" is good enough...but should have been much, much better. A "B-"


CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE: Building manager Ben Stiller must deal with the reality that his hero is a crook.

REJECT CHALLENGE: If it is true, he has flushed his friends' savings down the toilet. Massive guilt.

ACCEPT CHALLENGE: Let's rob the thief.

ROAD OF TRIALS: Every action taken to plan and execute the robbery (can't be more specific without ruining the movie!)

ALLIES AND POWERS: Employees, resident, and old friends who have various needed skills and motivations. Courage, intelligence, knowledge of the building and residents all come to bear.

CONFRONT EVIL-DEFEATED: A major reversal toward the end of the film makes all seem lost.

DARK NIGHT: Betrayal, confusion, and failing plans seem to doom them.

LEAP OF FAITH: The ability to switch plans at a moment's notice leads to a hair-raising climax

CONFRONT EVIL-VICTORIOUS: A final conversation with Alda is delicious.

STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER: No real lessons...but a perfectly reasonable measure of audience satisfaction.

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