From Bob le flambeur to Oceans Eleven, the heist film is a staple of the caper school of filmmaking and a great way of making something incredibly simple a complicated construct. We’re looking at you Inception. With that in mind, it also serves as a playground for the people who like to stage things big. Enter Brett Ratner, most recently seen on the big screens with a segment in New York, I Love You but more infamously known for X-Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour series of films. With the recent controversy surrounding his departure from the 84th Academy Awards behind him, we are left with judging his latest opus on its own merits.
Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the building manager of high-rise luxury apartment in New York known simply as The Tower, and he runs the staff operations like a well-oiled machine. When top-floor resident and Wall Street billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is placed under house arrest when charged with massive fraud under a Ponzi scheme, it becomes apparent that the pensions of all of the staff who invested with Shaw have gone as well. After a series of events show the formerly amicable Shaw to be truly wicked, and Josh has a conversation with FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni), the former employees including Josh and his concierge brother-in-law Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck), resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and ex-con Slide (Eddie Murphy) concoct to relieve Shaw of his hidden millions in safety net money and get revenge.
Pulling together a Ratner production seems to have all the hallmarks of a caper film, so it almost seems appropriate for him to have been brought on board for this high-concept retread of so many similar heists that have gone before. While playing like an Oceans Eleven for the working class, Ratner has assembled an impressive group of comedic actors who play both to and against their strengths. Stiller plays a surprisingly straight character, and not the typically highly strung type he has perfected in the Fockers franchise. This, of course, balances out motor-mouthed Eddie Murphy, who is on very familiar ground playing what amounts to a slightly more potty-mouthed Donkey from Shrek. Indeed, after a decade lost in funky family fare, it is nice to have the Eddie Murphy of old back on board.
Equally pleasing is the supporting cast, especially Gabourey Sidibe, who none of us thought would do much of anything beyond her Oscar-nominated role in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Adopting a Jamaican accent, she goes for some easy laughs with a series of double entendres with Eddie Murphy, but makes for a nice bit of character work in a cast full of familiar faces. Matthew Broderick, who will forever be Ferris Bueller to us, continues his job as one of 2011’s comeback kids, also appearing in Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. Drawing on his inner mouse, Broderick adds some old-school quirk to the affair and, together with the presence of Téa Leoni, takes us back to the giddy heyday of 1990s crazy.
Tower Heist is released on 26 December 2011 in Australia from Universal.