Despite his misdeeds and all the misfortune he wrought for so many families and businesses, we can thank incarcerated financial fraud Bernie Madoff for at least one thing. Without him, we wouldn’t have the gift of “Tower Heist.”
Ben Stiller is Josh Kovacs, the thoughtful, affable manager of one of New York City’s finest apartment buildings. Besides catering to the obscenely wealthy, the building is home to billionaire investor Arthur Shaw, a hometown boy from Queens who cultivated the ability to charm the hell out of his clients while robbing them blind without batting an eyelash. More about him in a moment.
Josh oversees a large and eclectic staff of service professionals, including his dopey brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck); a Jamaican cleaning lady named Odessa, played by “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe; a former Burger King employee-turned-elevator operator named Enrique (Michael Pena); and the doorman, Lester, played by Stephen Henderson.
Within the first 10 minutes of “Tower Heist,” we meet all of these characters and learn what a great guy Josh is…especially when he’s asked to essentially evict Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a Yale grad and father of two who was downsized and has lost everything. Josh arranges for Mr. Fitzhugh to stay in the building for a few more days. Aww.
For all of his good intentions, Josh made one terrible mistake. Unbeknownst to his staff, he asked Mr. Shaw to invest his staff’s pensions — a total of 20 million dollars. This foolish decision comes back to bite him when Mr. Shaw is busted by the FBI for bilking his investors. Josh slowly realizes the great guy who owns the penthouse is in reality a great big (insert your own expletive).
Shaw needs to get his staff’s pensions back. But how? Enter Eddie Murphy’s Slide, a career criminal Josh went to school with when he was six years old. Josh assembles a team consisting of Slide, Charlie, Mr. Fitzhugh and Odessa — who, as luck would have it, knows how to crack a safe. Together, they concoct a caper to retrieve the stolen money.
If this entire setup sounds ridiculous to you, that’s because it is ridiculous. It’s also incredibly entertaining. Murphy makes one of the better decisions of his recent career in doing a comedy where he doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Stiller, Affleck, Broderick and Pena are all hilarious, with an honorable mention for Gabourey Sidibe, who’s surprisingly funny after turning in one of the last decade’s most memorable dramatic performances in “Precious.”
However, the person who may deserve the most credit for “Tower Heist” is director Brett Ratner. He shows a level of maturity with this film that he’s never before displayed, taking a ridiculous story and keeping it grounded in reality by masterfully playing to all of his actors’ strengths.
Four out of five stars.