Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tower Heist

There are those movies that live up to their billing.  Then there are those that sneak up on you, throw you a curve ball so to speak, in either a positive or negative manner.  Then you have those films that are just there.

Tower Heist is one of the latter.  With a story snagged from the headlines, a decent plot and a strong cast, a structure was certainly in place.  I’ve found through my years of watching movies, trying to get myself into this world and simply analyzing the heck out of everything I watch, that this particular layout I’ve described can move in one of three directions, which, in part, mirrors reaction itself, in a microcosmic sense.  While current events are a popular idea to play with, it’s rather difficult to catch the timing properly and is a feat accomplished more easily when working on a small-screened project.  Decent plot is almost a given in a good movie and a strong cast, doesn’t have to be one comprised of A-listers but typically this is the initial direction our minds take us when hearing that a film has a strong cast. 

So really what is this all about?  The current events angle is a positive, no matter how you cut it, unless, of course, you’re working on a period piece, but that’s not the discussion at hand.  The Plot will be looked into in a moment.  It’s the cast that creates the most interesting angle of exploration. 

I’ve found that ensemble casts, where big names coexist, regardless of the scale, are either put together out of happenstance, which is highly unlikely these days or as an attempt to increase the likelihood marketing will be a success.   While marketing and increasing the number of tickets sold are obvious in their importance, for profitability as well as exposure, it’s also an expensive way to cover up flaws and glaring weaknesses.  Unfortunately this explanation for the big name casts seems to be the primary reason whenever ensembles are seen.

Tower Heist has this ensemble thing going for it, although not your typical gathering of A-list talent.  I would say that the cast here is built around two main stars (Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller), and then surrounded by an extensive list of B to A- stars (Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Judd Hirsch, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena, and Alan Alda), which seems to be enough to add a bit of box office pop yet not taking any real headlines away from your two big names.  I do believe that if you’re looking to maximize your film’s star power, then doing it in a similar manner to the casting done in Tower Heist, seems to be a smart and effective manner of going about it.

Tower Heist tells the story of how an upscale apartment complex for the wealthy elite in NYC is sent into a whirlwind when the Tower’s most prominent resident is arrested for operating a Ponzi scheme and is confined to house arrest.  Meanwhile it turns out that all the characters who work at the tower have been affected by this scheme, some more than others.  Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), as apartment manager, takes full responsibility for these people’s losses and it’s this guilt, spurred by a coworker, and friend, Lester’s attempt at suicide after being scammed of his life savings, that sends him into action mode.

The movie then moves into filling in the plot pieces.  Tea Leonia plays an FBI agent, who takes a liking to Kovacs, where she winds up informing him that Arthur Shaw (Alda) has to have approximately 20 million dollars stashed away somewhere.  It’s this piece of information that sends Kovacs on his mission, an inciting incident so to speak.  He feels the responsibility for his employees and friend’s loss, and vows to do what it takes to get it back for them. 

He enlists the help of Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick), a character who’s fallen on tough times and was recently evicted from the Tower, Enrique (Pena), a new employee who, along with Charlie (Affleck), Kovac’s brother-in-law, were fired for being there when Josh has a meltdown during a confrontation with Shaw.  But this assembly of criminals-to-be are rather pathetic in regards to criminal aptitude, therefore Josh must turn to Slide (Murphy), a guy he just happens to know who seems to be extremely proficient in all things thief-worthy.

The story moves on with the plot falling into place, a few antics along the way, but not enough of what you’d expect out of Murphy and Stiller.  In fact the film hardly highlights them at all, Murphy is not used properly and for all intents and purpose, Stiller’s just a guy in this film. 

There are funny moments, the best being where the inept thieves are prompted by Slide into stealing $50 dollars worth of merchandise from the mall, that really highlights the awkward and inexperience these men have in this regards.  The majority of the other funny parts to this film are hinted at in the trailers.

The film is a film you’ll enjoy watching while immersed in this world.  But it’s also a film you’ll think poorly upon hours after watching it, realizing it didn’t nearly live up to it’s potential and really, in retrospect, left a lot to be desired.  The main problems are the underutilization of Stiller and Murphy and the unlikelihood of this scheme working out.  Normally I suspend my disbelief and let things be as they are, but without risking a spoiler, the man heist is just, well, seemingly impossible, especially by this crew of misfit thieves.

As for the acting, in itself it wasn’t bad.  The problem wasn’t necessarily with the actors themselves, but simply for what each actor had to work with.  The best performances are by Alda, Hirsch, Leoni and Gabourney Sidibe (From Precious).  Each of these actors seemed to bring their particular characters more to life, with each offering a bit of something extra to the film as a whole, something that the others simply can’t say.

What I liked about the film was the story ripped from the headlines, and what this particular headline exposes.  Shaw is by all intents and purposes an elitist scumbag that feeds off the hopes of the downtrodden and economically deprived.  He takes everything they have and doesn’t blink an eye.  The fact that he has seen these folks on a daily basis for over 10 years says another matter altogether, this man doesn’t think twice about stealing from those close to home and it easily could be presumed that he’d steal from his own family if it came down to it.  For Shaw, it’s all a game.  He doesn’t care who he hurts because they are all expendable, replaceable to him.  I also found it interesting how this character was set to walk away from his charges, a point that offers a bit of fear for how the legal system works in general, let alone when it’s obvious to all that a crime has indeed been committed. 

Overall the film is fine. You’ll probably enjoy it as you’re watching it, but it won’t be something you’ll think about chatting up to friends or colleagues.  It’s an ok movie, nothing special, with its compliment of flaws.  Is it worth seeing?  Sure, but if I had the opportunity to do it over, well I’d wait until It hit the $2 dollar cinema or for its release on Blu-Ray. 

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