Tower Heist

By Geoff Ratliff

He’s baaaaaack! No, not Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, the undisputed comedy king. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Murphy in a credible, adult comedy, so even though Stiller is technically the leader of this ensemble cast, Murphy’s return to his roots was the real draw here. Many of you reading this may be too young to remember Eddie Murphy in his prime, a comedic genius unrivaled by anyone in the past 30 years. I won’t try to build a case myself, I’ll simply direct you to the Cliff’s Notes – do they still make those? – rundown of is career provided by Bill Simmons in this Grantland piece.

I’ll admit that I was extremely skeptical about this film’s prospects when I first saw the trailer a couple of months ago. Like my trepidation about “The Big Year”, I was doubtful that the individual talents of Stiller, Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, and the underrated Michael Pena, would mesh well enough to provide an enjoyable experience.

Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the building manager for one of the most exclusive residential towers in Manhattan. Alan Alden plays the Bernie Madoff-esque, Arthur Shaw, a long time resident of The Tower who, as part of his money managing scheme, has squandered away the pensions of all the building’s employees after, unbeknownst to them, Josh had asked him to invest their funds as a favor a few years ago. After realizing that there is no legal recourse for getting the pension money back, Josh is motivated by one of his charges’ attempted suicide to go after Shaw’s hidden stash, estimated to be about $20 million.

He enlists the help of co-worker and brother-in-law Charlie (Affleck), recently evicted building tenant Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick), newly hired elevator operator Enrique Dev’Reaux (Pena), and the only person he knows with any type of criminal history, and old neighborhood “pal” Slide (Murphy), to assemble the sorriest crew imaginable. Not only does this bunch possess little to no criminal expertise, but they must also avoid the watchful eye of F.B.I agent Claire Denham (played by a where-you-been-lately Tea Leoni) who is charged with watching Shaw while he is on house arrest awaiting trial. The Italian job this surely is not.

The premise of the movie is sound, but my concerns going into it were twofold: 1) How would Murphy do in this type of role after resigning himself to the kiddie pool for so long and 2) Would this cast, particularly heavy weights Stiller and Murphy, try so hard to out funny each other that the product would suffer? My fears about this humorous take on the Bernie Madoff scandal were quickly alleviated as it became clear that the cast was clearly resigned to letting Murphy take center stage when it came to the in-your-face brand of humor, and Eddie does not disappoint.

While clearly not the best work of any of the cast, the movie works precisely because nobody tries to do too much. Affleck, the least comedic of the crew, is appropriately cast as the I’m-not-so-sure-about-this kid of the crew, and he never oversteps his boundaries. The action is subdued enough to feel appropriate for the cast members ages, and the dialogue is just funny enough in the right places to make this movie hum along seamlessly. You won’t walk away from the film doubled-over, with tears in your eyes, but you’ll have no regrets about this pleasant and fun film.

Follow Geoff on Twitter @snglemarriedguy

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