' ' Cinema Romantico: Tower Heist

Monday, November 07, 2011

Tower Heist

Not for nothing is Steve McQueen's Ferrari 250 GT Lusso a central plot point to the new Brett Ratner movie "Tower Heist." Our main character, our rooting interest, Ben Stiller's Josh Kovacs, attentive and good natured building manager of a high rise apartment complex in Manhattan known simply as The Tower, sort of morphs into a blue collar, mild mannered version of Steve McQueen in leading a few hapless pals and one fast-talkin' con in a shapeless, ridiculous robbery of a wealthy businessman who has bilked many of millions. Here is a film, amazingly enough, that had a chance to truly be a Movie For Our Times. This is a term that often gets tossed about, often with no merit, but it seems pretty damn apropos here because you can't tell me there aren't at least a few people down there in Zuccotti Park right now who aren't drifting off to sleep in their grimy sleeping bags with visions of stealing back what they believe is theirs. Alas, Brett Ratner and his team of screenwriters don't have the elegance (or perhaps the intention) of pulling off such a coupe.

The film opens with a quick, convenient intro to all the primary players and we make special note of Kovacs apparent friendship with the Bernie Madoff-esque Businessman (who is played by Alan Alda and who has a name in the film, though for the purposes of this review we will only refer to him as a Bernie Madoff-esque Businessman because, hey, that's what he is) who keeps McQueen's Ferrari parked in the living room of his spacious loft. But of course it turns out this Bernie Madoff-esque Businessman isn't the nice guy he seems to be and is carted away by a comely FBI agent named Claire (Tea Leoni, fiery). Turns out Kovacs' idea of having all his devoted employees turn their pensions over to the Bernie Madoff-esque Businessman to handle was a bad one. The money's gone. Momentarily turning into a rebel with a specific cause, Kovacs, along with Charlie (Casey Affleck, desperate) the concierge and Enrique (Michael Pena, along for the ride) the elevator operator, enters the loft where the Bernie Madoff-esque Businessman is being held under house arrest and smashes up that cherished Ferrari. Naturally this leads to all three men getting fired.

Kovacs quickly decides to right the wrong he has inflicted on everyone by going after the Bernie Madoff-esque Businessman's $20 million safety net, stashed away in what Kovacs suspects is a safe in the wall. He recruits Charlie, Enrique, Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick, afraid of life as almost always), a recently evicted Tower tenant, Odessa (Gabourey Sibide, fierce) the maid turned safe-cracker, and a lifelong crook named Slide (Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy-esque) who lives next door to Kovacs and will train the newbies in the ways of criminal mischief and get them in touch with their inner bad selves.

The heist itself may be poorly planned. It also may be spectacularly planned. I'm not entirely sure because the particulars of the heist are hardly addressed, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The film is far more interested in the hijinks inevitably caused on account of the heist, such as the moment when the aforementioned Ferrari 250 is dangling outside a Tower window above the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons far below and Mr. Fitzhugh, in turn, is dangling from the Ferrari itself. Say what you want about the lumbering direction of Mr. Ratner (and I have and I will) but give the guy points for filming an actual car dangling from an actual window. And even better, it's Matthew Broderick dangling from the car! We've all seen the Daniel Craig's and Bruce Willis's of the world dangling from all manner of high places but not the ever-worrisome Matthew Broderick. Going further, in the esteemed Roger Ebert's review of this same movie he writes that Ben Stiller "was born to play the victim of heists, not the gang leader." Which is precisely why he needed to play the gang leader in "Tower Heist!" This whole gang is against type!

The whole movie, however, more or less, isn't. It has a fairly adequate level of manic energy and it's decently funny and generally a good time and the whole bit but "Tower Heist", had it dared to aim higher, could have been something far sharper and weightier, a movie for these times.

Maybe it's unfair to grade such an enterprise on a curve. Feel free to call shenanigans. Escapism is nice and all, but sometimes a battle cry would be even better.

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