A high concept comedy caper has a lush visual composition thanks to lenser Dante Spinotti that, in spite of its indolent structure, expository line-readings and forced slapstick, has moments of absurd flair about it.
The haphazard, broad Tower Heist stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy (host of next year's Academy Awards), Alan Alda, and Matthew Broderick as part of a capable ensemble set around Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and it seems to work best when Murphy as low-level thief Slide is on screen. Otherwise, this new early winter holiday flick from Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) seems like a knockoff of an upcoming Ocean's movie as it rustles up some amusing socio-psychological conflict from current economic conditions.
Like a famously incarcerated Ponzi scheming guru, Alda's sleazy, if easygoing Arthur Shaw is going to prison for defrauding pensions of those in the lavish Manhattan high-rise, including staff members under its manager, Josh, Stiller (in a straight-man type of role).
In the screenplay by Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven) and Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can), Josh enlists a team that includes employees, a high-strung concierge played by Casey Affleck, bellhop/new elevator man played by Michael Pena and a spunky maid filled with good one-liners by Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), along with Broderick's sullen, broke Wall Streeter former tenant along with supposed master criminal, the local Slide, whom Josh has known since childhood.
Some fun can be had from the energy and sense of humor derived from the material with Shaw under house arrest with FBI agent, Queens native Clair (Tea Leoni) lurking around his penthouse. So, complications arise as to the clandestine nature of the whereabouts of snatched millions. Yet, as charismatic as Murphy comes off through the slippery, fast-talking Slide, Tower Heist uses its premise to mostly cornball and half-baked effect.
Stiller and a somewhat dignified Leoni (who were in the better oddball comedy Flirting With Disaster that also included Alda) have time to interact in a romantic subplot that never takes hold before mayhem climaxes with some needed traffic ultimately underlining the clumsy helming. Ratner does seem to get more substance from his craft contributors than what the scattershot plotting produces. Some of the actors spruce of what often is lackluster as Broderick and Sidibe demonstrate, while Affleck and Pena are more strained by their limited roles. Despite a colorful, fairly charming Murphy paired with an acrimonious righteous Stiller, this Heist unpretentiously towers over the masses as gleefully sloppy, stunted entertainment.