“”˜Ocean’s Eleven’ meets the Bernie Madoff scandal” appears to have been the pitch for “Tower Heist,” the latest film from director Brett Ratner (the “Rush Hour” trilogy). Throw in a few likable actors and audiences will flock to the theaters, right? Honestly, that logic will probably work with this film, but those audiences will be sitting through one of the laziest comedies I’ve seen in a while.
The story goes as follows: a group of employees at a prestigious New York high-rise fall victim to a wealthy resident’s Ponzi scheme and attempt to rob him in order to settle the debt. It’s not a bad premise, but any potential is squandered by generic execution.
Ratner isn’t exactly known for intelligent filmmaking (he nearly destroyed the “X-Men” franchise with his brain-dead final installment) and this film is no exception. “Tower Heist” isn’t funny enough to be a good comedy nor is it smart enough to be an exciting caper film. Instead, we’re given a largely forgettable entry into both genres.
The root of the problem lies with the screenplay, written by a team of four people (a team of Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper) who may be talented individually, but their voices become muddled when combined. Ignoring the lack of comedic moments and the generic plotlines, the “Tower Heist” script doesn’t really have characters. It has broad, vaguely sympathetic outlines of characters, but none are anywhere near compelling enough to carry the movie.
I guess the writers expected the talented cast to fill in the gaps here, but the actors appear to be on auto-pilot, supplying the characters with nothing more than their usual quirks and mannerisms. Ben Stiller plays the lead character, but his performance isn’t notable for anything other than the bizarre, sporadic Boston accent that he occasionally adopts.
The rest of the characters range from boring to offensive due to the filmmakers’ blatant reliance on racial stereotypes. I love that Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”) is getting roles in such high profile blockbusters, but does she really need to play a Jamaican maid scavenging for a Green Card? Is her cringe-worthy “Jamaican” accent supposed to amuse us? I’m not advocating forced political correctness, but the filmmakers provide no reason for playing into such tired clichés.
That’s not to say “Tower Heist” is completely without merit. I was amused by many moments and the plot isn’t overly predictable. Plus, I’ll never complain about having Alan Alda, Téa Leoni and Casey Affleck in a movie. Their considerable talents just aren’t served well by the lazy screenplay and generic direction.
Likewise, when you put Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in a movie together, you’re guaranteed a few genuinely funny moments. In “Tower Heist,” however, they’re few and far between.