DIRECTED BY BRETT RATNER
STARRING: BEN STILLER, EDDIE MURPHY, CASEY AFFLECK, MATTHEW BRODERICK, ALAN ALDA, MICHAEL PENA, GABOUREY SIDIBE, JUDD HIRSCH, NINA ARIANDA and TEA LEONI
“So you’re saying you want to rob 20 Million Dollars from Arthur Shaw, which you think he’s hidden in a secret wall-safe in his penthouse apartment – an apartment that he’s not allowed to leave and is guarded by three FBI agents, 24 hours a day. And you want to do this in a building which has the most advanced security surround system in the world. A building which we’re barred from ever entering again,” Charlie (Casey Affleck) asks Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) like an ex-receptionist asks an ex-hotel manager. It’s a yes or no question that Josh, obviously, answers with a ‘Yes.’
Caper films are all about the run-through. We don’t care about what happened before, we don’t pay too much attention to what happens after either. We seek explanations, sure, but we trust the makers with detail and their intelligence in the same. We grade them on it. We’d like them to be believable, if not right-on. It all begins with the pitch that precedes the run-through. Like Danny to Rusty in the elevator or Danny and Rusty to Reuben by his pool in ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’ We don’t know for sure what’s being suggested, but we know it’s ridiculously difficult; impossible, even. Like in ‘Charlie’s Angels’ when Dylan is tied up with Sam Rockwell and his goons circling her with smirks on their faces when she has one of her own and tells them clearly how exactly she’s going to escape, how they’d end up helping her to, and how ridiculous it sounds when she says that.
That’s the run-through. It’s an evolution from smash-grab affairs and John Dillinger styled show of power, the burst-in-burst-out kind of heists from Crime dramas and actual reality, for a fact. It’s meant to engage the audience, to count us in on their con where we’re made to see the one golden way ahead and how, absurdly enough, the bunch in focus, the team of people whose midst we’re lured into, are exactly suited to make it happen. “Pick a natural disaster,” says Nigel with all of Eddie Izzard’s British sarcasm in ‘Ocean’s Thirteen.’ Minutes later, it’s “Get me a hundred thousand dollars and a laptop.” He’s figured it out. All he has to do is go on eBay and buy one of those machines that dug the Channel Tunnel. With that, the cons turn operative. It’s a mission-accomplished-to-be.
The best thing when you’re told about what’s going to happen is not that you anticipate, but that you wait for it to go wrong. It’s like being stuck in the middle of a speech and you have the potential to swing it both ways. Films excite with their surprise package, no matter what. The little plan they have to work around this barrier. It could be stupid, it could be the cleverest of ideas, true-blue breakthrough material. Having spent the best of an hour following protocol, it’s the thrill of having the next 40-odd minutes all for yourself to guess, uncover and be satisfied/disappointed.
‘Tower Heist’ is simple. It’s set in a hotel called ‘the Tower’ and it’s about a heist. It’s a big hotel, kind of like Willie Bank's casino, which makes the process hard enough for there to be a movie on it. There’s also a reason to drive it. Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is the chairman-figure who swims on Benjamin Franklin. His rooftop swimming pool has a hundred-dollar bill for a bottom and he has an elevator that takes him to it. And he has Steve McQueen’s Ferrari in the living room of his penthouse. All this when he’s on house arrest for securities fraud, depriving his employees of their pension pay and some, as in the case of Lester the doorman (Steven McKinley Henderson), of all of their savings.
So Josh is the faithful servant gone rogue – he lives alone and has nothing to lose. Charlie’s wife is in her third trimester where he’d need to sell the baby to pay for its birth, as he hypothesizes. Enrique (Michael Pena), the elevator-attendant will play a part because he ‘knows’ about circuitry and Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) will because he has nothing better to do. And Slide (Eddie Murphy) is the Chris Tucker of this Rush-Hour-gone-badass, who’d do it because he gets to be cool.
You don’t watch a Brett Ratner movie for intellectual value. You watch it for how he pokes fun with references. And, of course, for his black stereotype. Stereotypes in the plural, this time, for we have Gabourey Sidibe from ‘Precious’ as Odessa, the no-nonsense Jamaican maid who knows about locks like Mikayla knew about automobiles in ‘Transformers.’ In short, she’s home-schooled. As for the references, well let me give you one. Charlie, Enrique and Mr. Fitzhugh sit around a table as Josh and Slide join in. Fitzhugh jokes about them being ‘the Doberman gang’ when Charlie links it to Gregory Peck getting attacked by dogs in ‘the Boys from Brazil’ which Enrique links to ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and how he was freaked out by Hilary Swank in it. A Gold Car would sit on an elevator and not cause it to overload, security personnel fancy ‘Playboy’ than their jobs, the FBI only plays watchdog with a head shepherd in Agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), the love interest who never suspects.
‘Tower Heist’ has Alan Alda for a villain. You’d know what to expect from it. Aside from poking fun and the surprise (yes, the Car, if you haven’t guessed yet) is an obvious nostalgia factor. Slide presses the accelerator in Josh’s car when he’s driving – a car that I thought looked like a Mustang Bullitt, the dash being filmed in a stretch of road under a bridge that looked very much like the one in ‘the French Connection.’ Also is the central Steve McQueen reference. Now that doesn’t make ‘Tower Heist’ a film tribute. Neither is it a water-tight caper venture. But then that doesn’t stop it from being a mildly interesting, sometimes annoying and always amusing Brett Ratner fare. Does it?