Billed as this year’s crime caper of choice, Tower Heist is the latest Ben Stiller ensemble comedy that fails to live up to its own promise. On the heels of the dull-as-dishwater Night at the Museum 2, it sees Stiller play Josh, a working-class stiff committed to the exclusive apartment building he manages until the day he discovers that prize resident Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is running a Ponzi scheme that has swallowed his staff’s pensions. Resolving to steal back the money from Shaw’s secret safe, what follows is a blue collar Ocean’s Eleven that is about as by-the-numbers as can be, despite its delusions of social commentary.
Not that the cast don’t deserve better. With Josh’s band of thieves including the likes of Casey Affleck’s incompetent concierge, Matthew Broderick’s bankrupt ex-tenant and Gabby Sidibe, whose reward for her Oscar nomination for Precious is apparently to play a hotel maid, Tower Heist features an embarrassment of riches from which a more attuned director than Brett Ratner (X-Men: Last Stand, Rush Hour) could have wrung solid drama, not to mention comedy.
The presence of an almost sleepwalking Eddie Murphy as a motor mouth criminal simply adds to the sense of resources neglected. Despite an easy chemistry between the leads and some initial laughs at the troupes’ ineptitude, Tower Heist quickly abandons broad comedy in favour of the robbery of a building nothing like as secure as early scenes would have you believe.
Established as a broad comedy, character traits and motivations are unsurprisingly thin, a problem only underlined by the film’s switch to drama at the halfway mark. Utterly lacking in tension, what follows is a twist heavy, ingenuity free crime caper. You will have lost patience long before Ratner has unveiled the eye-rollingly obvious hiding place for the loot, but there is always time for a montage to remind you that as well as not being funny, multi-million dollar Hollywood comedies are not above the opportunistic use of the financial crisis in their desperate bids for relevance.