Brett Ratner has done something ingenious in Tower Heist. No, silly, I don’t mean he made a good movie. Jeez, are you new to this site? I mean that he’s made another perfectly innocuous and unmemorable queef of a film (Red Dragon was okay), but one whose utter dopeyness is impossible to fully convey without explaining the entire final act. Thus, most reviewers will be forced to skirt around the edges, avoiding the truly damning details to make observations such as “Well Eddie Murphy was almost kinda funny again! It has a… real neat message!”
Now, in case you’re worried about me spoiling the two or three unpredictable details of this ingenious masterwork, rest assured that I’ll save that for the end. I’ll even warn you before hand, it’ll be like an awkward first blowjob.
So, you know the plot. It’s Ocean’s 11 with a topical hook. Alan Alda plays a rich money type dude (I’d be more specific here, but the movie isn’t) who lives in the penthouse suite in the Trump Tower, where he cinematically swims laps in a roof-top pool with a hundred-dollar bill painted on the bottom (classic Jewish hedge-fund manager move). Ben Stiller plays the tower general manager, who leads a whacky crew of malcompoops as they open doors, hand out towels, remember birthdays, and generally give the residents what they pay for. “White neighbors?” asks Michael Peña (from the trailer). No, you silly goose! Service! The personal touch and all that bullsh*t! A wacky fat Jamaican in a maid outfit! (Precious’s Gabourey Sidibe).
Where Tower Heist really fails is in the details, but we’ll get to that, because the big picture is pretty stupid too. To call a film like this any kind of critique on corporate greed or Wall Street abuses is to fall into the same kind of too-vague thinking that allows that stuff to happen in the first place. We never find out what kind of scam Alan Alda’s character has pulled, how he actually lost everyone’s pensions, what motivates him or why. All we know is that he’s in trouble for “securities fraud.” And thus the only real point the movie makes is “this guy is a meanie!” All we learn about him is that he keeps Steve McQueen’s car in his living room, and he plays computer chess against Ben Stiller because get it? It’s like they’re totally playing a high-stakes game of chess, bro! The chess of life and shit.
Part of me feels bad bashing Brett Ratner so hard, because in many ways he’s not a terrible filmmaker. He’s certainly not the worst, probably middle of the pack. The film looks great, and I don’t mean in a purely graphic design sense, which would be bullshit anyway, but in the sense that scenes build and you get an actual, visceral spatial awareness. There’s a scene with Matthew Broderick’s character dangling out of an open window in the Trump Tower penthouse, and the whole thing is shot well enough that it actually conveys that sweaty-palmed, fear-of-falling feeling, which is… something, at least. You’d think if Ratner got his hands on a decent script and was smart enough not to screw with it at all, he might be able to make something halfway not-terrible.
And to be fair, the comedy isn’t awful, just sort of lame. Leno-y. There are a couple laughs to be had. I wouldn’t say “EDDIE MURPHY IS BACK!” or whatever the dumb consensus headline is going to be, but he’s certainly got that talking-fast thing down. Michael Peña works well in the part of the Latin elevator operator, and manages to squeeze a few laughs out of a script in which Precious eating cake and hitting on dudes is the height of humor. They’re all competent actors. So gun fingaz to you, Rat-man, before I explain how insanely moronic your movie is.
My God, man, the details! There isn’t a single plot point in this movie that works it at all if you think about it for more than two seconds. There’s the miraculous coincidences — like how Precious’s dad just happens to da best locksmit in Jamyaica, mon! So of course he taught her how to open any safe with just a stethoscope, every locksmith knows how to do that and teaches it to his daughter! My dad was a pilot, of course I’m familiar with the fuselage wiring on a Boeing 757, ya bumbaclot batty buoy! Now WHARE ME PUT ME DONUT? BUH! BUH!
Then there’s the physically impossible — Precious can’t tempt the FBI agent guarding the penthouse door into eating her sleeping-pill-laced cupcakes, so she just rams her drink cart into his knees. Which painlessly renders him unconscious, because obviously.
There’s the dumb — Ben Stiller finds out Alan Alda lost all their pension money, so he goes up and smashes all the windows in Alda’s Steve McQueen car. Really, guy? A dude owes you a bunch of money and you’re going to go bash up one of his most valuable assets? YEAH, GET HIM GOOD, BRO! FLUSH ALL HIS MONEY HE STILL OWES YOU DOWN THE TOILET, THAT FUCKER!
Long-story short, stupid. More Scooby Doo than Ocean’s 11, which is actually more insulting than I intend towards Scooby Doo.
But the final act — and here’s where spoilers come in. Feel free to check out now. Here’s where it becomes almost MIND-BOGGINGLY IDIOTIC.
The Stiller gang manages to get past the guards, make it inside Alda’s penthouse, and find the safe inside the wall Stiller just had a hunch was there. They open da safe tanks to da safe-crackin’ maid, BUH! BUH! Only the safe, which was supposed to have $20 million in it, is empty. So begins an argument, which ends with Eddie Murphy accidentally shooting the hood of the McQueen car. Stiller inspects the bullet hole and discovers, “Hey, wait a second…” IT’S MADE OF SOLID GOLD! What better way to hide your liquid assets than by disguising it in a solid-gold Ferrari? IT’S ALMOST TOO EASY! Honey, I need bail money! Bring me a side-mirror!
Matthew Broderick, playing the patented expository math genius character, quickly surmises that the car must be worth $40 million. So they try to steal this solid gold Ferrari, as if they could just drop it off at the local pawn shop. They attempt to lower it down the side of the building using a cable that usually holds a window-washing platform attached to the bumper (paging Mythbusters!). Some other ridiculous stuff happens, but it all ends with Ben Stiller being the fall guy and going to jail, while the FBI still doesn’t know where the car is. The big reveal is that they hid the car… IN THE ROOFTOP POOL! With no explanation of how it got up there! And of course no one noticed it!
The final scene is, I shit you not, vignettes of all the maids and tower staff with their families on Christmas Day, opening up big UPS packages. Packages that turn out to be filled with… A SOLID GOLD WHEEL! A 24 KARAT CARBURETOR! MERRY CHRISTMAS, BRO, I FEDEXED YOU A GOLD CRANK SHAFT! HOORAY, ALL MY MONEY TROUBLES ARE OVER!
Also, I think they really missed an opportunity to show Precious showing up to Mastercard’s office trying to pay off her Funion debt with a gold piston rod. Other than that it was super good.