Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tower Heist

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb Listing -
CNS/USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert's Review -

Tower Heist (Universal, directed by Brett Ratner, written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Ted Griffin) is a topical if not intended to be a particularly profound movie.  Indeed, it's basically a screwball comedy.  But with an ensemble cast with the likes of Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Judd Hirsch, Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick it largely delivers the laughs.

Set at a towering residential hotel modeled after the Trump Tower and located somewhere in Midtown Manhattan, the staff, led by Josh Kovacs (played by Ben Stiller) prides itself in its professionalism and courtesy toward its upper-class, at times super-upper-class residents.  The richest man in the tower, residing in the penthouse suite, is a financier Arthur Shaw (played by Alan Alda).  He seems brilliant, and the staff from Kovacs on down treats him with a mixture of awe and deference ... and he turns out to be a crook.

It's a shock to the tower staff, when a security cam is seen showing Shaw apparently entering the back of a laundry truck in the garage alongside two buff men. Indeed, Kovacs initially believes that Shaw is being kidnapped.  Instead, Shaw was trying to escape the FBI, who led by Special Agent Claire Denham (played by Téa Leoni) were arriving to arrest him for securities fraud.  Shaw doesn't get far before he is arrested.

However, the shock and disorientation continues when it is revealed that Shaw had apparently drained all the accounts he was responsible for in the preceding months, including to the surprise of the staff, their staff pension fund.  Josh, in fact, had decided to let Shaw manage the the Tower employees' pension fund a few years earlier because Shaw had promised that he could "easily triple its worth."  Now on account of this "sweetheart deal" between Shaw and Josh (and without the staff really knowing about it ... though up until the arrival of the FBI at the doors of the hotel, the staff implicitly trusted all their rich residents as being "good people") the staff was left with nothing.

This, of course, caused enormous trauma to the staff.  Lester (played by Stephen Henderson) the doorman for 29 years, "that's an awful lot of doors I've opened over those years ..." was about to retire.  But now he had nothing.  A few days after he realized that he had nothing left of his retirement savings, he tries walking in front of a subway train ...

The final straw for Josh came when he along with Manuel (played by Juan Carlos Hernandez) the head concierge go up to tell Shaw (out on $10 million bail, but under house arrest) what Lester had nearly done and Shaw appeared unmoved.

It was then, that Josh decides that "justice must be done" and that he and the other staff are going to figure out a way to "steal back" even from Shaw's penthouse the twenty million dollars that the staff lost through Shaw's malfeasance.  Much ensues ...

Since Manuel along with recent hire Enrique (played by Michael Peña), and recently evicted architect (due to bankrupcy) Mr. Fitzhugh (played by Matthew Broderick) persuade Josh that they alone would be incapable of pulling this off, Josh brings in a "consultant" named "Slide" (played by Eddie Murphy).  Josh and Slide had grown-up together in the same neighborhood, somewhere in Brooklyn and Slide was always a petty criminal.  So Josh asks him to help his staff steal back its money.

The heist the follows is convoluted and stupid -- but then it's a screwball comedy, when it's not being so painful.  The possy is composed of Josh, Manuel, Enrique, Slide and a hotel maid named Odessa (played by Gabourey Sidibe), the "daughter of the owner of the largest lock-smith business in Kingston Jamaica" as their "safe cracker."  Much again happens.  And when they inevitably get caught, one of the other maids, Miss Lovenko (played by Nina Arianda) who throughout the movie kept denying to Josh that she was studying for the N.Y. Bar Exam even as he kept assuring her that as long as she did all her work, it didn't matter to him, comes in to rescue them as their attorney (she did pass the Bar exam ... ;-).

The ending of the movie is actually more complex than this and I actually kinda like it.  And while this is not intended to be a particularly profound movie, as American comedies often do, the film packs a surprising punch.  So even as we smile and laugh as we watch the film, it's talking to us about a lot of pain and frankly about a lot of crime and a lot of betrayals.  To the movie's credit, the film repeatedly names the pain, the crimes and the betrayals even as it keeps us laughing ... and then resolves it all quite fairly.

So as "light" as this movie may initially seem, it actually says a lot more than one may initially think.  Again, the ending is better than one would expect.  Good job!

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