Ordinary People, Ridiculous ‘Heist’

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Who doesn’t know that Eddie Murphy played Professor Sherman Klump in the “Nutty Professor” series, or that it was Ben Stiller who made it okay for men to use moisturizers in “Zoolander”? No one, and that is why the two actors’ first joint venture should be in everyone’s must watch list. But is it?

Comedic veterans Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller join forces for the first time to pull a con act in “Tower Heist.” Alas, the caper falls short and is unable to capture the attention of the audience for long.

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the building manager of a high-end residential Tower in New York City, which includes his dysfunctional staff: Charlie, (Casey Affleck) the hard-working goody two-shoes as the building concierge; Enrique Dev’Reaux (Michael Peña), the over-enthusiastic, brainy Indian who is the newly-replaced bellhop boy; and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), the overbearing Jamaican who is the working maid. His clientele includes Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the billionaire who lives in the penthouse and the not-so-lucky Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a Wall Street investor who is being evicted because of bankruptcy.

After pulling a Ponzi scheme, Shaw is soon placed under house arrest, and his case is led by F.B.I. Special Agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni). Things turn from bad to worse when Josh, Enrique and Charlie lose their job because of vandalism charges by Shaw.

Angered and feeling wronged, they soon hatch a plan of vengeance to get back their stolen money. There is one tiny problem, however: having never stolen anything before in their lives, stealing 20 million dollars is a bit out of arms reach. Josh subsequently bails out his neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy), an ordinary thief, to help them in plotting the robbery. Without giving much away, what carries on is a series of over-the-top and unrealistic events, possible only in movies.

“Tower Heist” was an accident waiting to happen from the start. As is the case with all heist movies, there is a need for good characters and strong storylines for them to be successful. Sadly, this movie misses both by a fair stretch. Fortunately, it does ace on the comedic front for being a comedy-crime movie.

Let’s start with the characters; they are not given enough screen time or background development to make them believable. All seem very rushed and underdeveloped, disconnecting them with the audience. Téa Leoni was totally miscast, and now I seem to wonder, why was she even there? Wait, I know why. She just happens to get drunk one night with Josh and basically ignites the idea of robbing Shaw.

As for the plot, it left many loose ends hanging, which simply could not be ignored. In the middle of the movie, there is a romance between Claire and Josh that is left unanswered. And whatever happens to the 2,000-pound Steve McQueen vintage car that is being pushed around easily by four guys?  On top of that, how is it possible for five ordinary guys under the tutelage of a petty thief –– who can’t even break locks –– to plot a robbery on a highly-secured building? A bit far-fetched, isn’t it?

“Tower Heist” has echoes of a modern day “Robin Hood” with the underdogs going for the big loot, and splashes of “The Italian Job” with the high-end stakes and revenge as their motive. But at the same time, it tries too hard to fit the mould of comedy capers such as the “Ocean’s” series and “A Fish Called Wanda.” Luckily, by trying to stay true to the genre of comedy capers, “Tower Heist” has many twists and turns as the movie goes on, capturing the audience. Also, let’s not forget the hilarious comedic scenes that play a central part in the movie.

The only saving grace for the movie is the brilliant cast. The chemistry between all of the characters is very arresting. Not only do Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy give amazing performances, but the supporting cast is just as magnificent. Whether it is Gabourey Sidibe’s portrayal of a badass Jamaican maid or Casey Affleck’s pragmatic remarks, it is their delivery of their lines that makes them funny. “Tower Heist” is more of a Ben Stiller movie, as Eddie Murphy does not come on screen till half-time, but when he does arrive, the number of jokes increases.

Helmed by Brett Ratner, director of the “Rush Hour” series, “Tower Heist” manages to get a few laughs and surprises from the viewers, but the rushed plotline and characters tend to overshadow the action and comedic scenes.

If you are in the mood for a “no-brainer” comedy-caper movie that makes you laugh and doesn’t bother you with its rushed story, then, as Slide would have said, “You better get your punk ass to the nearest theater.”

Rating: 3 out of 5