Welcome to Monday Morning Review, a new feature here at Movies.com where we provide a review of a film the Monday morning after it arrives in theaters. As such, this review is written for people who have seen the film, and will discuss plot points, spoilers, etc, so read it only if you've seen it or if you don't mind knowing everything that happens.
Tower Heist has such a great premise that I can imagine talented filmmakers seething with jealousy when they learned it was being directed by Brett Ratner, who doesn't really deserve great premises. In the film, an arrogant Wall Street tycoon (played by Alan Alda at his congenial sleaziest) steals millions of dollars from his clients, and among his victims are the ordinary working-class folks employed at his luxury apartment building -- which puts them in an ideal position to take revenge. None of the other people he defrauded will ever have this kind of access to him. The guy has violated the basic rule of crime -- indeed, the basic rule of life -- which is that one should not defecate where one sleeps.
Look at that. There's a classic little-guys-versus-big-guys conflict, plus a Robin Hood theme, both of which audiences love. There's also a connection to the anti-greed sentiments of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The movie's been in development for several years, but it winds up feeling like it was ripped from yesterday's headlines. Oh, and big stars? Including Eddie Murphy? The suits at Universal Pictures must have been wetting themselves with excitement.
So it's too bad this terrific scenario wasn't executed with anything close to the skill it deserved. Tower Heist turned out OK, with a likable cast and some reasonably funny scenes. But you look at it on paper and think: this shouldn't have been just OK. It should have been fantastic.
The first disappointment is that, contrary to the way it's been advertised, this is not a "Ben Stiller & Eddie Murphy" movie. It's a Ben Stiller movie, with an ensemble that's rounded out by Eddie Murphy. Apart from a few glimpses to let us know he's there, Murphy's character, Slide, doesn't join the story until a third of the way into the film. Then, once the movie gets past the part where Slide tries to double-cross everyone and steal the contents of the safe for himself (which is a dumb, unnecessary twist -- you can see them struggling to find something for him to do), Slide becomes superfluous. From there until the end of the movie, he doesn't serve any function in the plot that couldn't have been done by any of the other characters. This is a waste of Eddie Murphy.
Granted, Murphy hasn't done much in the last several years to engender our confidence. But consider this: Even as a secondary character in Tower Heist, isn't this the funniest that a live-action Eddie Murphy has been since ... what, Bowfinger? In 1999? It's been an extraordinarily long time since we've caught a whiff of the Eddie we once knew and loved.
The bigger problem in Tower Heist, of course, is that the details of the heist wind up making not one damn bit of sense. I laughed a fair amount during the movie, particularly in the first half, and overall I came down just barely on the side of "yeah, sure, go ahead and see this." But I also walked out with a thousand questions about plot holes and loose ends. It's hard to imagine anyone who paid even minimal attention not feeling the same way.
I don't particularly care that a car made of solid gold would weigh considerably more than the 2,000 pounds estimated by the characters. (A regular car, made of things other than gold, starts at around 3,000 pounds.) But I am concerned that the production of a solid gold car would require the participation of dozens of people to design, build, and transport it, not to mention the difficulty in obtaining that much pure gold to begin with. All of it defeats Alan Alda's purpose, which was to hide his money in such a way that no one would know about it.
Also, if the hidden wall safe was empty, why did he have the hidden wall safe? He went to a lot of trouble to keep it, too, leaving that wall intact when the penthouse was redesigned. Was it all part of the plan? "They'll figure out that I have a hidden wall safe, look there, and totally miss the solid gold car sitting right in front of them!"
Somehow the heroes tricked the bad guy, his lawyer, and the FBI into thinking his court date had been moved. Um, how? It was mentioned earlier that one of the building's residents is a judge; are we missing a scene where Stiller and his cohorts persuaded him to help out? (Let's just skip the idiocy of FBI agents and a big-shot lawyer actually believing that they'd been scheduled to appear before a judge on a federal holiday without ever trying to verify it.)
I could go on and on. In fact, I will!
Remember the scene where the girl from Precious tries to get the FBI agent to eat a piece of cake that's been laced with drugs, except he declines because he's allergic to chocolate? When she enters the penthouse in the next scene, she's wiping chocolate from the corners of her mouth. I assumed this was setting up a joke where she'd been unable to resist eating the cake herself, even though she knew it was contaminated. But nope: nothing. More deleted scenes? Maybe they'll be on the DVD along with the scenes explaining how they got the gold car out of the elevator shaft and into the pool at the end.
All this nonsense highlights the fact that the script was rewritten about ten times before it was finished (if "finished" is really the word we want to use), and it shows. You can see the erasures and White Out marks, the stuff that was supposed to be omitted but bled through. As cheerfully amusing and lightweight as the film is, imagine how much better it would have been if it had been made by people who cared what they were doing.