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'Tower Heist' has plot holes aplenty but laughs too, critics say

November 4, 2011 |  2:30 pm

Tower Heist
The 2008 financial meltdown has been the subject of dramas ("Margin Call," HBO's "Too Big to Fail") and documentaries ("Inside Job," "Chasing Madoff"), so it only seems fair that it now gets the comedic treatment in the new caper "Tower Heist," directed by Brett Ratner and starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. For movie critics, the film delivers laughs of varying degrees, either in spite of or because of its ludicrous plot.

In a measured but favorable review, The Times' Betsy Sharkey calls "Tower Heist" "a modern comic fable about working stiffs … stung by Wall Street excesses … trying to stick it to the man." Although Ratner glosses over the plot's numerous holes (the story is "completely implausible"), Sharkey says that thanks to the comic talents of Stiller, Murphy and the supporting cast, "sometimes it works." Sharkey commends the cinematography, production design and visual effects and concludes that although "Tower Heist" is no classic, "at least for a little while it will make you laugh instead of cry about the current state of affairs."

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert echoes Sharkey's sentiments, writing, "This movie would fall to pieces if it didn't hurtle headlong through its absurdist plot without ever pausing for explanations." He deems the film "broad and clumsy" but "funny in an innocent screwball kind of way." While "Tower Heist" "isn't a great heist movie for a lot of reasons," Ebert appreciates the central set piece and elements of the script by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson.

A.O. Scott, of the New York Times, thinks "Tower Heist" would have benefited from embracing its silly side. The film isn't about high-wire suspense or clockwork precision, "Which is great — or would be if Mr. Ratner were daring or disciplined enough to unleash the full farcical anarchy that 'Tower Heist' occasionally promises but rarely delivers." Scott is also ambivalent about Murphy's role as Stiller's criminal mentor, which is both "blatantly stereotypical" and a "blend of exuberance and hostility [that] is just what 'Tower Heist' needs."

In the Wall Street Journal, John Anderson sees little of redeeming value in the film, save for Alan Alda as the Bernard Madoff-inspired villain, playing against his nice-guy image with surgical precision. The rest of the cast is "ham-handed," Anderson writes, the plot is implausible (sound familiar?), and Ratner's direction leaves much to be desired. Anderson says that although Ratner has cited caper films such as "The Anderson Tapes," "The Hot Rock" and "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" as inspiration, their similarity to "Tower Heist" exists "solely in the mind of Brett Ratner."

USA Today's Scott Bowles finds "Tower Heist" to be a rehash: "while 'Heist' does a nice job of broaching the economic reality facing people who actually work for a living, those moments succumb to action sequences that could have come from an '80's cop-buddy comedy, when Eddie Murphy made for a convincing con man." But for Bowles, the main offense is one of unfulfilled potential. He laments, "given its cast and the day's political climate, what a job 'Heist' could have pulled."

It seems that if "Tower Heist" were a stock and movie critics were financial advisors, many would give it a "hold" rating.


A long-planned 'Heist'

Movie Projector: 'Tower Heist' to swipe No. 1 spot

Five improbably important questions posed by 'Tower Heist'

-- Oliver Gettell

Photo: Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in "Tower Heist." Credit: David Lee / Universal Pictures

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