“Men on a mission” films and the heist genre (arguably the same thing) in general are virtually impossible to screw up. Even Brett Ratner, a director that (perhaps unfairly) gets beaten up regularly for the insensitive things he says in the press, and his party-boy image can deliver a film like Tower Heist, and it plays fairly well at home. You’ve got an ensemble of actors with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy playing against Michael Pena, Casey Affleck, Mathew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe and Alan Alda, and with that cast you’re not going to get bored, even if you can see where the film needed a little more oomph. It’s all about seeing a plan come together, and how that plan gets complicated. And if the film isn’t as great as it could have been, well there’s that, but it’s just good enough. Our review of Tower Heist on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Josh Kovacs (Stiller) runs a New York apartment complex for the very rich. Every person has special needs, and he’s there to make sure that mistresses and wives don’t cross paths, and people get the cigars they want. One of their biggest clients is Arthur Shaw (Alda), who Kovacs thinks is about to be kidnapped, when it turns out he’s being arrested. Shaw was involved in the Ponzi schemes that wrecked America’s economy, and along with his client’s money, Kovacs had Shaw looking after the building’s retirement funds, which leaves the entire hotel staff robbed.
At first Kovacs doesn’t believe that Shaw’s a bad guy, but when it becomes apparent that Shaw is both guilty and remorseless, Josh snaps. It gets him, his brother in law Charlie (Affelck) and new guy Enrique (Michael Pena) fired, and lands him a date with hot special agent Claire Denham (Leoni). Now out of work, Josh concocts a plan to steal Shaw’s hidden spoils, which is rumored to be a very large safety net. He first contacts Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) – a former tenant and investor who’s lost all his money – and then Slide (Eddie Murphy), the only criminal he knows. Through knowing the layout of the building, they know where Shaw might keep his safe and how to elide security, but Slide isn’t the world’s best safecracker, so they bring in Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), whose father ran a locksmith shop in Jamaica.
The biggest flaw with Tower Heist is that it’s PG-13. One of the selling points of the movie is that it’s a return to a less kid-friendly Eddie Murphy. The Murphy who became a super-star in the 1980’s. And though it’s nice to see him playing against something other than children, animals or himself, you wish he was free to really let loose here because some of the riffs he has would have been better if he could go full R. The second biggest flaw is that they never figured out how to end the thing. When you watch a film like The Hunt for Red October, or something by Brian De Palma with the same sort of “plan gone wrong” films, you can tell when a master director is behind the camera, and the plotting and the situations all keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait for the pieces to come together. When you get to the end of the film, it doesn’t feel like they got the best possible ending, just one that worked well enough.
That said, it’s enough to watch a talented cast of performers bounce off each other. Alan Alda is a great villain, and there couldn’t be a better target for a heist. Stiller is the lead, which means he’s usually the straight man, but he has moments of inspiration and plays well off of Pena and Affleck. Mathew Broderick’s character seems like he had a better reason to be a part of the crew earlier in the writing process, but his helpless nerd is a good addition to a criminal organization that resembles the programmers in Office Space more than Ocean’s Eleven. And if Sibide doesn’t further her career with this movie and her accent, it may have more to do with being a limited presence. She’s okay here, but…
Ratner may not be the world’s best planner or stager in the business, but his great gift is getting talented performers to shine in front of the camera, and everyone has their moments. I was left most impressed with Tea Leoni, who deserves to have the career that Rene Russo had for a couple of years there. Leoni has matured well, is a commanding and likeable on screen presence, and she’s great in the movie as the love interest. Tower Heist could have been so much more, but as junk action, it’s the sort of film that’s easy to fall into on cable. There are worse things.
Tower Heist comes to Blu-ray in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. As a new film it looks outstanding, and a DVD and digital copy is also included. Extras kick off with a commentary by director Brett Ratner, writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, and editor Mark Helfrich. It’s a fine track, noting trivia and the obstacles in making the film and its genesis to the screen (and the film’s multiple endings). There’s a PIP that shows the storyboards for five sequences in the film, and a U control that notes the music used in the film. There’s also a second screen application which wasn’t available upon review. There are two alternate endings (3 min.) which cover what happens after a character goes to jail. It’s easy to see why they’re there, but also easy to see why they weren’t necessary. This is followed by nine deleted or alternate takes (6 min.) which are mostly trims that offer a couple of new jokes, but nothing missed. Then there’s a gag reel (4 min.). “Brett Ratner’s Video Diary” (23 min.) walks through the shooting of the production, and it’s scored and has title cards like a Woody Allen movie. It’s a very odd choice. There’s also a six-part making of called “Plotting Tower Heist” (45 min.) which covers the film’s genesis, some of its effects work, and producer Brian Glazer’s long relationship with Brett Ratner.