The theatrical release of Tower Heist was overshadowed by controversy, which surprisingly had nothing to do with the actual film. Tower Heist was originally scheduled to premiere on Video On Demand just three weeks after it premiered, prompting Cinemark, the third largest movie theater chain in America, to threaten to boycott the film entirely. Those plans were scrapped, but only a month later troubles arose yet again when director Brett Ratner wound up in a P.R. nightmare thanks to casually homophobic and sexist remarks that cost him – and by extension, co-star Eddie Murphy – this year’s Oscar telecast. Meanwhile, the actual film, now on DVD and Blu-ray, barely made its $75 million budget back at the domestic box office, proving that it probably wasn’t worth all the trouble in the first place. Because it’s not very good.
Tower Heist stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and an impressive supporting cast including Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Gabourey Sidibe and Alan Alda, in a crime comedy with ambition but no laughs. Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, the manager of a posh hotel whose most prominent resident, Arthur Shaw (Alda), is placed under house arrest for Ponzi schemes that cost Kovacs’ employees their life savings. Kovacs enlists the aid of a street thug named Slide (Murphy) to help him plan a complex heist to redistribute Shaw’s wealth amongst his blue-collar victims. The plot is so topical that you might be surprised to learn that the film was in development many years before the economic collapse.
Unfortunately, it’s also so topical that Tower Heist isn’t any fun, although a lot of that has to do with the lackadaisical pacing and a screenplay that clearly favors the heist over the comedy. While it’s heartening to find Murphy in a role that doesn’t involve ridiculous high-concept fantasy shenanigans (which he went right back to afterwards, with the upcoming and awful looking A Thousand Words), the character has no point of view that makes him a valuable comedic presence, and no dialogue that qualifies as humorous. Ironically, the funniest bits in the film come from typically dramatic actor Casey Affleck, playing a well-meaning but mildly inept goof who tries to steal diamond earrings by putting them in his mouth. Why he doesn’t try to use his hands is anybody’s guess, but it’s the only part of the film that made me laugh, at least.
Despite a game cast, the script falls back on relevant social commentary to fill out its running time, but there’s no insight to be found. Somebody like Preston Sturges could have turned Tower Heist into a hilarious screwball caper with pointed subtext, but Brett Ratner is no Preston Sturges. (Then again nobody is, except maybe Eli Craig.) The film feels more like a droll drama than an actual comedy, and it could have worked on those merits, but the stilted comedic asides rob the film of genuine weight. The final heist, which takes up the bulk of Tower Heist’s third act, is actually pretty inventive (one of the screenwriters, Ted Griffin, also wrote Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, which Ratner was once set to direct), but by then we’re not sufficiently involved to care. And the jokes still aren’t landing, no matter how hard Ratner and his cast seem to try.
Tower Heist climbs its way onto Blu-ray in a gorgeous transfer that highlights acclaimed cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s warm, rich work. It’s too bad that the lighting is part of the problem, capturing the feel of a meaningful drama rather than the comedic atmosphere the film really needed to set the proper tone. Special features are plentiful and well worth your time, including two alternate endings, a gag reel, a decent “Making Of” and a sprightly commentary track with Ratner, his editor and his two writers. If you’re interested in the production of Tower Heist, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. But why you’d be interested is anybody’s guess.
Even if you accept Tower Heist as a serious political film with admittedly failed attempts at humor, the film’s ending – at the risk of Spoilers – is enormously troublesome, satisfying the emotional needs of a few of Shaw’s victims while simultaneously dooming his unseen ones to destitution. (End Spoilers.) It’s a fitting punctuation to a film that seems to have been poorly conceived, despite a plethora of comedic and technical talent involved. It inspires no passion, either positive or negative, which in a way is the worst review possible. Tower Heist isn’t worth stealing.