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Tower Heist

At least for its first half, Tower Heist is an enjoyable caper comedy that’s a lot better than you might expect. Ben Stiller (who had no behind-the-camera functions here, always a good thing) stars as Josh Kovacs, manager of a Manhattan apartment building for the fabulously wealthy. After years of his coaching, his staff has raised the practice of sucking up to the rich tenants to a fine art. None gets the deluxe treatment more than penthouse occupant Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), an investment wizard. Josh’s surprise when Shaw turns out to have been running a Bernard Madoff-ish Ponzi scheme pales in comparison to the anger of his staff, whose pension fund he handed over to Shaw.

After Shaw adds insult to injury, Josh concocts a scheme to rob his apartment, a move that should net him enough to repay the staff’s losses. He and his cohorts need the services of a professional crook, which is where Slide (Eddie Murphy) comes in. A guy he knows from his Queens neighborhood, Slide agrees to help them put together a plan.

And that’s where Tower Heist starts to slip away. The script began life years ago as a black Oceans 11, but somewhere in the rewrites the caper slipped away. Instead of watching our heroes carefully executing a brilliant plan for an impossible robbery, we struggle to make sense of what they’re doing as they storm the building during the height of Manhattan’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

It only gets more confusing and illogical as it goes along, leading to an ending that is unsatisfying in any number of ways. Maybe the writers felt they were avoiding a cliché ending. But a movie like this is no place to experiment with a last-minute dose of realism. The ending is so perfunctory and unsatisfying that I sat through the end credits expecting an extra scene. You can spare yourself the trouble: There isn’t one.

Still, for light entertainment you could do worse. Stiller is a pleasant enough hero when surrounded by a cast this good: Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, all of whom have a few nice moments. As the FBI investigator on Shaw’s case, Téa Leoni is the female lead, but there’s far too little of her. Murphy does an admirable job of repressing his mugging to play a more hard-edged character. The trouble is, the movie is still a comedy, so by virtue of not having much funny stuff to do he largely fades into the background, and his fans are the ones most likely to be disappointed by this otherwise pleasant piffle.

Watch the trailer for Tower Heist

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