Monday, 13 February 2012

Tower Heist (2011)

Tower Heist is a 2011 action film directed by Brett Ratner and written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, based on a story by Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, and Griffin. It was released on November 2, 2011 in the United Kingdom, with a United States release following two days later. Tower Heist follows Josh (Ben Stiller), Charlie (Casey Affleck), and Dev'reaux (Michael Peña), employees of an exclusive apartment building who lose their pensions in the Ponzi scheme of Wall Street businessman Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). The group enlist the aid of criminal Slide (Eddie Murphy), bankrupt businessman Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), and another employee of the apartment building, Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), to break into Shaw's apartment and steal back their money while avoiding the FBI agent in charge of his case, Claire Denham (Téa Leoni).

Tower Heist began development as early as 2005, based on an idea by Murphy that would star himself and an all-black cast of comedians as a heist group who rob Trump Plaza. As the script developed and changed into an Ocean's Eleven–style caper, Murphy left the project. Ratner continued to develop the idea into what would eventually become Tower Heist, with Murphy later rejoining the production. Filming took place entirely in New York City on a budget of $85 million, with several buildings provided by Donald Trump used to represent the titular tower. The film score was composed by Christophe Beck and released commercially on November 1, 2011.

Prior to release, the film was involved in a controversy over plans by Universal Pictures to release it for home viewing on video on demand to 500,000 Comcast customers, only three weeks after its theatrical debut. Concern over the implementation's harming ticket sales and inspiring further films to follow suit resulted in several theater chains' refusing to show the film at all if the plan went ahead, forcing Universal to abandon the idea.

The Plot

Josh Kovacs is the building manager of The Tower, a high-rise luxury apartment complex on Central Park West in New York City whose employees include concierge Charlie, his brother in law; Enrique, an elevator operator; Lester, the doorman nearing retirement; Odessa, a maid; and Miss Iovenko, who furtively studies for her bar exam at work.

One morning Josh sees what appears to be a kidnapping of Tower tenant and wealthy businessman Arthur Shaw. Josh gives chase and almost catches him when he is clotheslined by FBI agent Claire Denham. Denham explains that Shaw wasn't being kidnapped, he was attempting to flee arrest, accused of running a Ponzi scheme. Josh tells the Tower staff about Shaw's arrest and explains that he gave Shaw their pension fund to invest, and their money is gone. Josh, Charlie and Enrique visit Shaw, under house arrest in his penthouse apartment. Josh tells Shaw that Lester attempted suicide after losing everything he had. Shaw expresses condolences but appears insincere. Josh responds by destroying the windows of a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso Shaw has on display in his apartment. The building's General Manager is furious at Josh's action and fires Josh, Charlie and Enrique.

Josh meets Denham at a bar and she invites him to get drunk. As they drink she says Shaw must have had a cash safety net and suggests in jest that he find and steal it. Josh gathers Charlie, Enrique, and former Tower tenant Mr. Fitzhugh to draw up a plan to steal Shaw's money. Charlie brings up the obvious drawback that they are not thieves. Josh hires his neighbor, a petty criminal named Slide, to help. Slide trains the team but realizes he cannot do the robbery because he doesn't know how to crack the safe in Shaw's apartment. They bring in Odessa, whose family ran a locksmith business. Charlie tells Josh he's been rehired as the Tower's new manager, and Charlie warns Josh to stay away or he will have him arrested. Denham then tells Josh that a hearing for Shaw has been scheduled for Thanksgiving during the Macy's Day Parade to avoid publicity, and Shaw will go free. Josh and his team decide to break into Shaw's apartment during the parade.

The team reaches Shaw's apartment, breaks down a false wall and finds Shaw's safe behind it; Odessa opens the safe but finds it empty. Slide and Fitzhugh struggle for Slide's gun; the gun goes off and a bullet hits the car, revealing gold underneath the Ferrari's paint. They realize Shaw invested his cash in gold, had the gold melted down and cast into car parts, and then assembled the car in his apartment where the gold would be hidden in plain sight. Josh finds a ledger of Shaw's illegal finances in the car's glove box. They lower the car out the window into Fitzhugh's old apartment six floors below, and then take it down to the lobby on top of an elevator. Just as they reach the lobby Agent Denham and Shaw return and take the same elevator back up. Denham sees Shaw's safe and informs him that he did not declare the safe on an inventory of items taken when he was arrested, which is a violation of the conditions of his bail. She has him remanded back into custody.

Denham sees Lester using a stolen truck to try to escape from the building. She catches up to him, assuming he is fleeing with the Ferrari, but finds the truck empty. The FBI arrests him and Josh's other accomplices. She personally handcuffs Josh and privately congratulates him. As Josh is being questioned by the FBI, Miss Iovenko arrives, telling the FBI that she passed her bar exam three days ago and is acting as Josh's attorney. She shows them Shaw's ledger and tells them she will turn it over in exchange for everyone's freedom. The FBI accepts on the condition that Josh, being the primary conspirator, must serve a minimal two-year sentence.

The team retrieves the car from its hiding place in Shaw's rooftop pool and send various parts of the car to Tower employees to compensate for their lost pensions. As the movie ends Shaw begins his life sentence and Josh is booked into jail, a satisfied smile slowly forming on his face.


The film received a generally positive reception from critics, garnering 68% approval from 175 critics – an average rating of 6.2 out of 10 – on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, whose consensus reads: "Tower Heist is a true Brett Ratner joint: little brains to this caper, but it's fun fluff, exciting to watch, and showcases a welcome return to form for Eddie Murphy." Metacritic provides a score of 59 out of 100 from 39 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews." CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was a "B" on an A+ to F scale.

Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph called the film "a tolerably enjoyable Brett Ratner movie", labeling it "brash, forgettable fun." However, Robey criticized Ratner for having the mostly white characters require the aid of a black character for the heist, saying "it's a little embarrassing that they can't conceive of doing this without bailing a black criminal out of jail...but cultural sensitivity has never been Ratner's strong suit." The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy said that the film is "snappy, well cast and streetwise" but felt that it ignored the "contemporary economic issues at its core." McCarthy said that Murphy's performance was a return to form as "the rude, confrontational, wiseass Murphy audiences have nearly forgotten after all the silly kid comedies and heavy-makeup outings of recent years," and said that with his introduction "the film's energy and amusement level kick up a few notches," but that the enjoyment ebbs during the actual break-in, in which "Murphy becomes neutered...and the logistics of the heist become too far-fetched and laborious."

New York's David Edelstein called it "a shameless but exuberantly well-done caper comedy," and praised the performances of Stiller, Murphy and Leoni, saying "Ben Stiller...and Eddie Murphy... show off two of the best fastballs in comedy, and Téa Leoni's best scene as an FBI agent – drunk, both sloppy and blunt – makes you wish she had more." Emanuel Levy called Tower Heist a "formulaic, haphazardly plotted action comedy... whose best asset is its strong ensemble." Levy said "What makes the picture... work is not its plot, which is overly familiar and utterly implausible, but the socio-psychological dynamics that prevail among the characters." Levy singled out Stiller as "well cast" and Sidibe as having "some of the picture's best lines," but gave individual praise to Murphy, saying that he "dominates the second half of the picture," rendering "a joyous performance that recalls his witty, charming, streetwise roles of the 1980s."

Empire's Nick de Semlyen awarded the film three out of five stars, calling it "fun if uneven stuff from Ratner," with a "fairly dull" opening act. Semlyen said it was "a welcome return to form for Eddie Murphy," but was critical that he is "sorely underused." Semlyen praised Alda, saying that it is his "smarm offensive that turns out to be the primary pleasure." The Village Voice's Nick Pinkteron said that the film "deserves credit as a clean, well-turned job, fleet and funny and inconsequential," and appreciated the cast, praising Leoni as the "best thing going," and Murphy's "inspired" contributions. However, Pinkerton was critical of the script, describing it as "amateur as its crooks: the audience isn't even fully aware of who's in on the job when it kicks off, while other threads are left dangling."

Roger Ebert awarded the film 2.5 out of 4, saying "This isn't a great heist movie for a lot of reasons, beginning with the stupidity of its heist plan and the impossibility of these characters ever being successful at anything more complex than standing in line," but appreciated that the comedy did not "go heavy on the excremental, the masturbatory and symphonies of four-letter words", calling it "funny in an innocent screwball kind of way." Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum called the film "overblinged, eye-catching, and essentially tacky," and praised Murphy, saying "when Murphy is on screen, his comedic vigor... gooses the movie's energy level... but whenever Murphy wanders off, the movie's pulse rate drops. Tower Heist is in effect two movies: One belongs to Murphy, the other to the rest of the cast." Time Out London's Trevor Johnston said that "though it's hard to get excited by this amiable potboiler, Tower Heist is so at home with its limitations it's equally hard to dislike," but criticized the finale "which might have been a bit more tense had we been able to take it remotely seriously." Conversely, Time Out New York's David Fear gave it 2 out of 5 stars, saying "one nail-biting moment and some much-misssed Murphy mouthiness won't keep you from feeling like you're the one being ripped off."

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane criticized the plot, saying "toss everything you can find, starting with roughly diced plots, into the blender: such appears to be the method behind Tower Heist." Lane called the characters "unlikable people" but offered praise to Broderick, saying he "underplays [the character] so well." Lane lamented that "the notion of a theft from the thieves – from those who are lapped in lofty, screw-you wealth – is a tempting one right now, but Tower Heist passes the buck." Variety's Peter Debruge was also critical, saying the film "goes wonky on the way to the bank, due to its lackluster pacing and shortage of the qualities that typically earn stars Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy their paychecks – namely, laughs." Debruge felt that the opening 40 minutes were "a dull blue-collar drama populated entirely by stereotypes," and while the film "picks up some much-needed momentum" with the actual heist, the "resolution feels rushed." However, Debruge echoed praise for Murphy, calling his performance "a welcome return to the comic's irreverent, '80s-era persona," and lamenting his limited screen-time.

The Cast

Ben Stiller as Josh Kovacs
 Eddie Murphy as Slide
 Casey Affleck as Charlie
 Alan Alda as Arthur Shaw
 Matthew Broderick as Mr. Fitzhugh
 Stephen Henderson as Lester
 Judd Hirsch as Mr. Simon
 Téa Leoni as Special Agent Claire Denham
 Michael Peña as Enrique Dev’Reaux
 Gabourey Sidibe as Odessa
 Nina Arianda as Miss Iovenko
 Marcia Jean Kurtz as Rose
 Juan Carlos Hernández as Manuel
 Harry O'Reilly as Special Agent Danszk
 Peter Van Wagner as Marty Klein, Esq.
 Zeljko Ivanek as Director Mazin

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