CAPER FILMS ARE generally a blast—even though they depend on repeatedly punching certain emotional buttons. Little guy gets screwed by big guy, little guy swears revenge, little guy dreams up complicated plan to screw big guy, and after a series of close calls and complications, big guy is indeed screwed, and little guy attains sweet, sweet retribution for the screwing he originally received. While this formula may occasionally spin cinematic gold, in less capable hands you usually end up with a predictable pile of tin.
Tower Heist—director Brett Ratner's new caper flick starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy—is just such a pile... though it's not without the occasional lump of gold hidden within.
Stiller plays Josh Kovacs, the manager of a towering condo for the super rich. When a fantastically wealthy stock broker/tenant (the excellent Alan Alda) swindles him and the tower's staff out of their pensions... well, what am I telling you for? You know the formula.
For a film that stars some very funny people—besides Stiller, Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, and the aforementioned Murphy (who we'll get to in a minute) is along for the ride—Tower Heist is surprisingly... not so funny. In fact, the first quarter is an exposition-filled snore fest until Murphy thankfully joins the mix as an experienced thief recruited to school the team in the finer points of grand larceny. This is when lift-off finally occurs, and the scenes and its players zing with electric comic timing and chemistry... until we have to return to the plot, at which point, Tower Heist once again wilts on the vine.
To the film's credit, there are a couple of unexpected twists you won't see coming from a mile away, and watching Eddie Murphy work a scene brings back sweet memories of the late '80s when he was at the height of his comedic powers. And that's the problem with Tower Heist: It's got plenty of Ocean's 11—but not nearly enough Beverly Hills Cop.