Here's an interesting trivia about TOWER HEIST: the all-star caper comedy began development as an "African American OCEAN'S ELEVEN" originally titled as TRUMP HEIST. It was as early as 2005 when Eddie Murphy first pitched the concept to producer Brian Grazer and Brett Ratner, which will starred an all-black cast of comedians including Chris Tucker, Kevin Hart, Dave Chapelle, Tracy Morgan and Martin Lawrence. The story would be about a group of disgruntled employees who plan to rob Donald Trump and Trump Tower.
For TOWER HEIST, Brett Ratner's caper comedy which features an all-star ensemble (Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe and Alan Alda), is certainly the kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment mainstream viewers love to watch. No doubt it's a hugely commercial movie that is particularly intriguing for addressing the current hot-button issue of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which have been making headlines all across the United States. A timely comedy like this will make a good movie if done right, but likewise, the name of Brett Ratner attached in this production often spells disaster. After all, he's the director who botched potential projects like AFTER THE SUNSET (2004) and especially X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006). However, TOWER HEIST isn't an outright disaster, but a halfhearted popcorn flick that hardly reaches to its full potential.
Corporate bigwig Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is a wealthy entrepreneur who owns an upscale Manhattan residential high-rise building called "The Tower" (an obvious nod to Trump Tower). He lives in a rooftop penthouse, and spends his leisure time doing laps in his Benjamin Franklin swimming pool and has an invaluable classic red Ferrari in his living room that was previously owned by Steve McQueen. Despite his wealth, he's a rotten egg who has actually schemed over his hard-working employees' pensions that they have entrusted him to manage all this while. When he ends up being arrested for security fraud, the employees at the Tower finally learns the ugly truth and feel devastated. Among them is the faithful building manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), who always respect Arthur the most. He is especially heartbroken once he has to face with the bitter truth. While FBI agent-in-charge Claire Denham (Tea Leoni) unable to do anything much to press serious charges against the so-called untouchable Arthur, Josh isn't given up just yet. After he learns that an aging doorman Lester (Stephen McKinley Henderson) attempts suicide at a subway station, he decides to plot a revenge against Arthur by staging a daring heist. Apparently he knows that Arthur has stashed a $20 million somewhere in his penthouse. So he enlisted the help of concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck), elevator operator Enrique (Michael Pena), Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), and a former resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) to join him for the heist. However, to make everything go smooth, Josh recruits swindler Slide (Eddie Murphy) to help get their money back. Despite the fact that Arthur's residential high-rise building is unusually tight in security system, Josh has enough inside knowledge while Slide has the skills to get the job done.
At the first glance, screenwriters Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson does respectable job of setting up the characters and the situation. The movie picks up a better pace once Eddie Murphy's character is introduced. The scene where Slide teaches them how to rob is downright hilarious, and personally, it's good to see Murphy is back to a reasonably good form especially after years of ill-fated comedies. His motormouthed swindler recalls his heydays in classic movies such as 48 HRS (1982) and BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984), and that manic energy is fairly alive in his role here. Though he's still far from his best, at least he starts to get his mojo back. Speaking of Murphy, the rest of the actors are equally good as well. Ben Stiller is always at ease playing an everyman caught in desperate situation, while Matthew Broderick is perfectly typecast as a depressed Wall Street hotshot who took a big fall. Gabourey Sidibe, who made headline with her tour de force performance in the critically-acclaimed PRECIOUS (2009), is wonderfully hilarious as Odessa. Alan Alda is well-acted as the spiteful and ego-driven Arthur Shaw. Both Casey Affleck and Michael Pena, who often known for their serious-minded roles, are refreshingly good to see them letting loose for some playful performances. Even small roles from Tea Leoni and especially a heartwarming performance by Stephen McKinley Henderson, are also noteworthy.
Accompanied with Christophe Beck's sometimes playful score, the final 30 minutes is entertaining, if not a bit underwhelming, once the heist takes place. The somewhat creative action scene involving a car dangling outside a skyscraper penthouse window during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, is certainly something you don't really see everyday.
Overall, the movie remains a huge and missed opportunity. Brett Ratner's direction is as pedestrian as always. While he does his best to maintain a few pacey moments, he has botched a lot to make full use of its exciting premise. Good setup aside, the screenplay is sadly half-baked and spotty in places while most of the comedic elements are average at best. If only a better director helms TOWER HEIST, things will be different then.