You can tell Tower Heist understands we're a smart and savvy audience by the way its title is exactly what the movie is.
There's a tower, right? And then there's a heist of that tower. Forget successfully fencing a whole tower, do you know how hard it is to hide one from police? Safe deposit boxes normally top out at duplex-sized. If you're in a big enough city, you can stash your stolen tower in another, larger tower, but sooner or later the residents of the second tower are going to start asking questions about bashing their faces on brick walls every time they step out their doors.
You're generally better off stealing a nursing home, because nobody will really care and the residents won't even know — wait, what? It's a heist in a tower? Well, they could have made that a little more clear. Anyway, I'm not changing a single word. This one's on you, Tower Heist. Next time try The Guys Who Robbed the Building.
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Ben Stiller is the building manager of the wealthiest apartment tower in North America. Chummy with uber-wealthy investor and penthouse resident Alan Alda, Stiller has been able to get Alda to manage the staff's pensions. But when Alda's indicted for fraud, that means they've lost everything.
After a suicide attempt by an elderly doorman pushes Stiller into a violent rage, he's fired to boot. Tipped off by FBI investigator Tea Leoni that Alda's got $20 million in cash stashed away, Stiller gathers a team of employees, residents, and neighborhood thief Eddie Murray to steal the cash and restore the tower employees' lost savings.
Tower Heist, like last week's In Time, pits the ultra-wealthy against the average schmoes who just want a decent life in return for their labor. I figure that's got to be some crazy coincidence, what with America being so prosperous, equitable and fair to all that average citizens have the health and free time to just camp right out in the middle of major cities. Looks fun, guys! Save me a hot dog.
But if you asked these two movies for their position on wealth disparity in America, In Time would advocate grinding the rich into Spam for the poor while Tower Heist would recommend forgetting your rent is six weeks overdue with a domestic six-pack and the video rental of something breezy. Ocean's 11? A Rush Hour, perhaps? There are three of them! Choice is what makes America great.
Those are, after all, some of the earlier projects of director Brett Ratner and co-writer Ted Griffin. Like most of their work, it's not trying to do anything more than entertain. Toss some stars in front of you, smash a car or three, and do whatever kind of dance you do when your movie makes $150 million domestically. Which probably involves paying someone else to dance for you, probably. Possibly a whole team. Trickle-down economics in action!
And as pure entertainment, Tower Heist isn't bad. The jokey dialogue takes a while to get going, and some of the punchlines are so flat you could iron your clothes on them, but eventually becomes funny and quick, particularly once Murphy is brought into the fold. Alda is eminently hateable as an arrogant SOB who would happily take a child's piggy bank and invest it directly into his Shroud of Turin tablecloths. And it gets decent mileage out of its anti-Ocean's 11 plot, where a team of specialists who kind of suck at their specialties struggle to pull off a heist that immediately goes all wrong.
Everything from that point on is ridiculous, of course, and the people involved are stuck in some strange uncanny valley of characterization where they're believable humans one moment and silly action stereotypes the next. Tower Heist is a pretty good time, but in the end, it's just as disposable as a doorman.