Tower Heist is an effective piece of populist entertainment. It harnesses populist rage against the vague threat of rich shysters in suits living in luxury apartments, and wraps it in familiar tropes and big broad comedic moments. As far as that goes, the movie is fine, buoyed by great performances from a group of very funny people. It only suffers because it deigns to call itself a heist film. What ought to be meticulously constructed is a little loose in the details, the film throwing away all logic as it carries out its plan.
Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the manager of The Tower, a luxurious, state-of-the-art residential building that houses some of the wealthiest people in Manhattan. The building’s most prominent resident, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is arrested for securities fraud. It turns out that Shaw has been running a Ponzi scheme, and along with countless other accounts, he’s drained the pensions of The Tower’s staff. Kovacs confronts Shaw and subsequently gets fired. Dedicated to getting his staff their money back, he formulates a plan to steal twenty million dollars from Shaw’s penthouse apartment.
The film offers a very black-and-white view of the financial crisis, crafting a thoroughly immoral villain that offers no remorse at the destruction of other people’s lives. Every speech that Shaw gives only furthers the case of his villainy. It might have been nice to see something a little more nuanced, but the broadness of it works well enough. The film doesn’t get too caught in complex emotions, making it all about a simple battle between good and evil, with plenty of comedy filling in the gaps. It just barrels through everything with blockbuster momentum.
The film is like a shark in that it dies if it stops. The heist element doesn’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny. It relies on sheer incompetence on the part of the FBI, unreasonable arrogance on the side of the villain, and extreme luck on the side of the thieves. It’s all too contrived, and quick minds will easily identify the massive plot holes at the center of the heist. The film tries to cover this all up with crazy set pieces and manic speed. When the film hits a wall, it quickly cuts away to something else that might be funny. Or it distracts with some outrageous set piece. It doesn’t always work, but it does keep thing fun.
The stars also help keep this mess of illogic afloat. This is a cast of really funny people, and they manage to draw attention away from the plot holes through sheer hilarity. Ben Stiller plays it cool, reminding audiences that he can be a pretty good actor when he wants to be. Eddie Murphy is finally freed from the shackles of special effects and delivers a performance reminiscent of the ones that made him a star. Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña and Casey Affleck provide thorough comedic support. Alan Alda lends his character a sense of humanity that the script refuses to provide.
Tower Heist is big and clumsy, but it’s undeniably fun. As a heist film, it’s seriously lacking in logic, the central plot too ridiculous to even contemplate. But as a comedy, it’s working with one of the best crews possible, wringing laughs out of every absurd moment with charm and precision. And the film surrounds them with plenty of crazy things to react to. It’s far from a great film, but it’s a somewhat solid mainstream comedy. At the very least, it tries for something other than toilet humor. It doesn’t always succeed, but those talents make it all go down easier.