‘Tower Heist’ Offers Plenty of Laughs and Predictability to Boot

(From left) Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy make up the group of novice thieves in "Tower Heist."

If the proliferation of Occupy Wall Street protests have left you apathetic in the “using-a-BB-gun-to-stop-a-locomotive” kind of way, then you might love Tower Heist, which opens Friday, as it is 104 minutes of escapism and revenge fantasy rolled into one.

A star-studded cast (although I’m throwing that term around loosely) meanders its way through this amateur thief buddy comedy, which supplies plenty of laughs, but little else.

The plot revolves more around a singular building, New York’s finest high-end apartment complex, called “The Tower,” than any of the specific characters. When it is discovered that the tower’s penthouse resident Arthur Shaw (played by Alan Alda) is arrested for operating a Bernie-Madoff-style Ponzi scheme, which included squandering the pensions of the Tower’s many staff members, the building’s general manager Josh Kovacs (the increasingly-less funny Ben Stiller) springs into action.

In an effort to seek some sort of retribution, Kovacs gets fired for vandalizing Shaw’s prized Ferrari, which was once owned by Steve McQueen. Down and out, now hated by his employees, and feeling guilty, Kovacs plots to take back what was lost.

So, in true Robin Hood fashion, he assembles a rag-tag group of merry men to help him steal $20 million that he thinks that Shaw has hidden in the penthouse, in order to repay the pensions and get back in his former employees’ good graces.

The group includes his desk clerk brother-in-law (Casey Affleck) and the building’s just-hired electrical engineer (Michael Peña) – both of whom were also fired along with Kovacs – a recently-evicted financial analyst (Matthew Broderick), and Kovacs’ wise-cracking, oft-arrested neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy).

Murphy is a delight in this movie, and reminds you of the fast-talking, street wise, comedic characters which made him a megastar in the 1980s. After watching him waste away in family comedies of the late 90s and early-2000s, it’s great to see him return to what he does best.

Peña also does a wonderful job, and is by far the funniest character in the movie. He’s seemingly excellent in every role he takes, and this is no exception, as he provides one-liner after one-liner, some of which are pure gutbusters.

After the crew is assembled, a particularly funny scene takes place at the mall, when Kovacs introduces the team to Slide, who is unconvinced that the amateurs have what it takes to steal anything, let alone $20 million. Watching each of these novice criminals trying to negotiate their individual thefts is highly enjoyable.

From there, the crew gameplans on how they are going to get into the building from which they are barred, into Shaw’s apartment without his knowledge (all the more difficult since he’s on permanent house arrest), and out with the loot that Kovacs believes to be secretly stashed away in a safe the penthouse’s central concrete wall.

Complicating matters, of course, is the presence of a seductive FBI agent, played be Tea Leoni, who is investigating Shaw’s case. She quickly draws the curiosity of Kovacs, and after a night of drinking, their attraction is sealed. As the crew is scheming one evening, her arrival at Kovacs’ front door puts everyone into a panic, and they question why Kovacs would become involved with her. It also leads to the funniest line of the movie, when a constantly-paranoid Broderick states, “I never saw an episode of Matlock where the criminal bangs Matlock!”

When the time is right, the climactic scene of the movie is naturally the heist itself. As the pieces fall into place, then out of place, then into place again, the audience is left being forced to check their believability at the theatre door.

But in the end, this movie is about what you’d expect. It has a predictable plotline, an even more predictable outcome, and laughs and hijinx around every corner. And if you feel like sticking it to the 1 percent, go see it. At the very least, seeing Murphy show his ultra-sharp comedic teeth once again is worth the ticket price alone.