It's been a rough decade for Eddie Murphy and his fans, as they've collectively suffered through the likes of "Pluto Nash" and "Norbit." But Murphy's brand of high-octane humor appears to have found a new home: the ensemble comedy. As the member of a large cast of talented roleplayers, Murphy is freed from the burden of carrying a film like "Tower Heist," and instead merely has to hold up his end of the bargain, and it turns out to be an easy lift for a man of his talents. ("Tower Heist" is produced by Universal, a division of NBCUniversal.)
"Tower Heist" stars Ben Stiller as Josh Kovacs, the manager of a Manhattan luxury apartment building whose prize tenant, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is a Madoff-esque swindler who's defrauded the entire staff of their retirement savings. Kovacs rallies the troops to join him in robbing Shaw, assuring them that he knows a guy who can help them with the robbery—enter Eddie Murphy as Slide, a smalltime crook from Kovacs' neighborhood.
As he did in "Tropic Thunder," Stiller sidesteps out of the spotlight, letting a gifted cast of supporting players do some great work. Casey Affleck, so good in the "Ocean's" franchise, again proves himself to have great comedic staccato timing, Matthew Broderick reminds you that in another life he too was a gifted funnyman and Michael Pena, who has been doing brilliant work in too-small roles for years, delivers his funniest performance since he ran off with "Observe & Report."
And let's give director Brett Ratner his due, as he brings a sure hand to the proceedings. Does he succumb to his baser instincts late in the film, pushing things to the point of idiocy? Sure. But he juggles a huge cast, as well as some very unwieldy setting (you ever try to film a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in February? It can’t be easy) in telling a fast-paced story.
There are any number of things that are absurdly wrong with "Tower Heist"—from its "I know a black guy who can help us commit a robbery" premise to a Thanksgiving Day court appointment to the pear-shaped ending—but the film rises above these lazy/dumb missteps to deliver a surprisingly funny populist revenge fantasy.
There have a number of films that have tried to tap into the outrage over the economy's death spiral, but strangely, none have grasped it as clearly and to such good effect as "Tower Heist."