Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tower Heist (2011)

I've said it before and no doubt I will say it again, but there are times when I am quite happy to park my brains at the door when watching a movie and to just go with the flow. Not that all escapist films will do this for me -- I have yet to give myself over to muscle-bound superhero flicks or to immerse myself in sappy rom-coms.  In fact usually this unsuspected enjoyment of what is actually a pretty dumb film comes unexpectedly -- and therefore affords double the pleasure.

One of the go-to guys in Hollywood for dumb films is Brett Ratner who has carved a megabucks career for himself without divulging a smart set of directorial skills.  He's given us the three "Rush Hour" movies, although for my money it is pretty hard to stop Jackie Chan being an entertaining presence, even if one is stupid enough to pair him with an annoying Chris Tucker. Ratner's "Red Dragon" was the least of the many Hannibal Lector films, but watchable despite his best efforts.  Much the same can be said of the rest of his output: finding the right cast can usually compensate for feeble storytelling or for flights of logic.  The above movie is a good example and I found it vastly engaging despite myself.

Ben Stiller (whom I usually find only marginally more tolerable than Adam Sandler) is the manager of an exclusive tower block in Manhattan, marshaling his huge staff to cater to every odd whim of the wealthy and eccentric tenants. Top of the tower lives Bernie Madoff-like Alan Alda, supposedly a Wall Street whizz, who is about to be investigated for massive fraud, but who is sufficiently confident in his own political connections to believe himself invulnerable. Unfortunately his financial machinations have wiped out the pension funds and life savings of the tower's 'little people', amongst them the doorman looking forward to his forthcoming retirement.  When the latter tries to end it all by jumping in front of a subway train, Stiller along with concierge Casey Affleck and elevator man Michael Pena decide to confront Alda.  They march into the penthouse where he is under house arrest and Stiller attacks the prize possession in his living room, Steve McQueen's immaculately restored racing car. Building supervisor Judd Hirsch promptly sacks the trio, since important residents like Alda, even if they are major crooks, are sacrosanct.

Stiller resolves to return to the penthouse to rob the funds which he is sure are hidden there and adds former resident (now evicted for financial failure) Matthew Broderick to his band of merry men. However since they really know nothing about crime, Stiller decides to rope in  a neighbourhood villain, wise-ass petty crook Eddie Murphy.  Murphy is delighted to be able to steal some twenty million, but it turns out he knows little more than his cohorts about cracking a safe.  So Jamaican maid "Precious" Gabourey Sidibe joins the mismatched gang. From this point onward the action gets more and more far-fetched as they manage to effect entry to the heavily-guarded apartment, discover the hidden but empty safe (at which point Murphy reveals that he wants all the loot for himself), and then accidently discover that the McQueen sportscar has actually been reconstructed from solid gold.  Elaborate shenanigans follow as they attempt to get the sportscar down to street level, including trying to load it on a window-cleaning heist and then trying to balance it on top of the building's elevator shaft, with the different 'perps' finding themselves hanging over cavernous spaces a la Harold Lloyd. I could get overly involved with pointing out all of the misuses of the laws of physics in the action, but you have to remember that this movie is a feel-good fantasy and is really just an excuse for amusing thrills.  There is no benefit in trying to work out the logic of the film's denouement, nor how the car ended up where it was, nor how the downtrodden staff eventually got their savings restored. Like old Greek drama, one must just accept the deus ex machina conventions to provide a happy ending for most of the cast and the necessary comeuppance for swarmy Alda.

Stiller was pretty good in this role although he will never be anyone's idea of an action man. He was provided with a budding romance with the female agent in charge of Alda's case, a likeable Tea Leoni. (We've not seen much of her in recent years and like all of us she's beginning to get on, but she's still a delightful actress). Murphy's role is something of an improvement on most of his latter-day outings, but he still seems to be slightly phoning in his shtick. It's always a pleasure too to see Broderick, although his late career is also not a patch on his early roles.  The rest of the players do what needs be done to keep this jolly outing on stream. I must say that  M*A*S*H  funnyman Alda, who always had a sardonic spin on his jokes, makes a convincing villain.  Seeing him getting his well-deserved but unexpected desserts is part of the movie's charm.  This film and its players will never be honoured with any awards for this outing, but it definitely falls into the category of a guilty pleasure for me.
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