Tower Heist, a crime caper about a staff of penthouse employees who turn into financial vigilantes after their pension plan goes bust, is, of course, meant to be farcically topical. But enough of its very funny throwaway lines are so spot-on in relation to the current mood about Wall Street that you have to wonder if the screenwriters were updating jokes to the very last minute of the film’s production. Though directed a bit too cautiously by Brett Ratner (in Rush Hour form), Tower Heist deftly makes an ensemble comedy out of a serious topic (“It takes a village,” cracks an FBI agent when three employees enter an apartment to take a breakfast order) even as it builds to the most ingenious action sequence of the year, byway of skyscraper maintenance systems.
Ben Stiller as Mr. Kovacs, the Tower’s general manager, plays his usual put-upon, obsequious persona, but without the nebbishy pathos, even if Kovacs is a little slow to realize that concierges didn’t quite make it to the status, of say, hotel chefs. Kovacs gets a wake up call when he has to deliver an eviction notice to Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a meek, Wall Street wonk who has lost it all. At the top of the Central Park West tower is Mr. Shaw (Alan Alda), the Madoff-based billionaire who invested the staff’s pension fund. Alda’s avuncular but cutthroat broker gives the hijinks a serious edge.
After a slow start immersed in the hermetic world of a luxury high-rise, the film picks up when Kovacs enlists Slide (Eddie Murphy), a petty criminal, to help him—and Fitzhugh, and a front-desk attendant (Casey Affleck), and a man-hungry maid (Gabourey Sidibe), and a “Puerto Rican-Mohican” elevator operator (Michael Peña)—with the heist. Murphy is in classic from-the-street standup mode here, contrasting with the white-collar characters he volleys one-liners with. Teá Leone rivals Murphy for funniest off-the-cuff scene when her sarcastic FBI agent gets drunk and loosens up, and even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade earns a sustained chuckle when the Snoopy balloon noses around the Tower corner accompanied by the film’s amusingly noirish heist-theme music. Though Tower Heist has a sentimental streak, in this caper, only the economy tanks.