Tower Heist is the Occupy Wall Street movement’s idea of a porno. A group of ritzy apartment complex clock-punchers who’ve had their pensions plundered by a master of the universe band together to storm the tower and take back what they believe is rightfully theirs. And just like the protests, there’s not much of a point to the whole thing, but it’s fun and exciting and you get to see a bunch of people get arrested.
Another parallel between the movie and movement is that one percent of its cast draws 99 percent of the laughs. The one-percenter in this case is Eddie Murphy, who used to be funny when everyone in the world was a kid before he decided to take a couple decades off being Norbit, Pluto Nash, Dr. Dolittle and Bitter Oscar Loser.
Murphy is back in Axel Foley form as an obscenity-spewing cat burglar who grudgingly joins the cause. Pairing Murphy’s suddenly re-animated corpse with ultimate straight man Ben Stiller is a masterstroke of casting that’s just like putting Penn with Teller or that hungry tiger with Siegfried and Roy.
A filmmaker not usually renowned for his restraint, director Brett Ratner seems to realize he has something potent in Murphy and Stiller, but holds the pairing back for fairly distant intervals, leaving them to explode together at crucial moments when the momentum starts to die down a bit.
Similarly successful in juggling the movies’ many other stars, Ratner and his screenwriters accomplish what Ocean’s 12 through 27 didn’t quite pull off: Introduce a not-so-merry band of fun-loving criminals and make us halfway care about them. Casey Affleck is the constant between those similarly-themed strike-outs and this ground-rule double, working with Matthew Broderick and Michael Pena to set up an intriguing sideshow in between Murphy-Stiller outbursts. Alan Alda is delightfully pompous as the Bernie Madoff-like villain, and Tea Leoni, who like Murphy has been missing in action for far too long, is also sharp as an FBI agent who’s a few hundred steps behind the heisters.
I don’t want to oversell the movie, which has its share of groan-inducing one-liners, and a propensity for throwing around the word “vagina” seven-or-so times and hoping it’s funny enough on its own to draw laughs each time, unaware that vagina is only funny the first two times. Vagina. See? No longer funny.
But the film is at least a little bit magical, because it proves Murphy is funny again rather than a punchline himself. Hopefully this is the start of his next great act. If this turns out to be a one-time thing and Murphy plays DJ Lance Rock in the Yo Gabba Gabba movie and storms out of the Kids’ Choice Awards after he gets slimed, that will be cause for a protest indeed.
Starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Michael Pena, Tea Leoni and Matthew Broderick. Written by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, based on a story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Griffin. Directed by Brett Ratner. 99 minutes. Rated PG-13.