An all-star cast of Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, and Alan Alda lead this action-comedy about a group of hotel workers whose retirement funds are stolen by a shady investor. When they realize that he may use his money and influence to get off scot-free, they decide to get even with him the only way they know how.
Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is a building manager for The Tower, an elite condo high rise in Manhattan. They cater to very wealthy residents and strive to provide attentive and devoted service. His staff are many, but include father-to-be concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck), new bellhop Dev’Reaux (Michael Pena), and Jamaican immigrant maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). One day they discover that one of their premier residents – investment mogul Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) – has gone the way of Bernie Madoff, and “madoff” with the retirement accounts he was managing for the employees of The Tower. The group soon realizes that regardless of whether he is charged or manages to get off, they’ll have lost their life savings. However, they suspect that Shaw actually still has the money, just squirreled away somewhere in his posh Tower loft. By joining up with disgruntled resident Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and the only pseudo-thief any of them knows (Eddie Murphy), the group plans a heist to get their money back. At The Tower. A Tower Heist, if you will.
Problems with the film start early on, primarily with the generic nature of the characters. We have the main guy (Stiller) who for years has faithfully served his company, just to ultimately get canned for trying to do the right thing. We have the old guy, who’s just this close to finally being able to retire and enjoy his golden years. We have the expectant father (Affleck) who’d love to help, but hey, with a baby on the way, he’s got to think about his family first. I could keep going, but basically they’ve made the 7-layer dip of cliches.
And cliches can still be okay – or at least forgivable – in a comedy, if you actually make things funny. And on off moments, Tower Heist delivers a little bit of that as well. But everything feels so tired. The plot is tired, the dialogue is tired, and even the actors look tired a lot of the time. Straight from the studio’s auto-generated Movie Machine, this time the machine spit out Generic Comic-Action Plot #26 – the heist movie where you’re supposed to root for shat-upon working men (and ladies). So that’s what they made, because it had been a few years and it was time to put ole #26 back in rotation. They tried to tweak the formula ever so slightly by infusing some leftover “Occupy Wall Street” angst, but it’s a little too little.
In the movie’s defense, it does have a decent span where the actual heist takes place. But the heist itself also serves to magnify a couple of other problems. First off, it happens fairly quickly. The movie really draws out its setup and planning phases, which are the least interesting sections of the formula, making the movie just feel top-heavy. But more striking is that a decent heist is pulled off by a group the movie has belabored as a pack of, well, idiots. Somehow they all pull it together at the last minute, after the tedious setup that these people are comically inept at this type of thing. It’s movie logic, mixed with an unbelievable amount of coincidence and candy-coated plot holes.
But the main problem with Tower Heist is that it easily could have been a lot better. This is a winning cast. In fact it’s the kind of cast most movies would Generic Murder Plot #17 kill for. Not only that, but the movie looks fantastic. There is some excellent cinematography at work, and the picture and sound quality are first-rate. But it’s all wasted on a script that never rises above dollar-theater fare. And that’s the real robbery here.
I may have been a bit down on the film itself, but I have nothing but good things to say about Universal’s picture quality for this Blu-ray. This is a fantastic looking release, aided tremendously by director of photography Dante Spinotti’s camerawork. There is a very rich look to the film, where colors are balanced, but veer towards warm and natural instead of cold and modern. Detail is sharp, as the many character close-ups reveal. But the best part are the magnificent sets in the film. Everything from the intricate Tower lobby, to Shaw’s modernist penthouse, and even the dive bar are wonderfully shot. The high-definition encode treats everything with respectful care.
The audio side is also top-notch. The Blu-ray uses a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and it is well utilized. Given the action bent of this comedy, there are ample opportunities for ear candy, and everything is delivered cleanly, powerfully and with a generous surround field. Dialogue is always clear and crisp, and the overall mix is very well balanced. But just as important is the music element. Christophe Beck’s score marries more traditional orchestration with some added 70s action movie flavor. Horns are plenty, and the slight nod towards funk gives the soundtrack some swagger.
There are a few different supplemental ways to watch the movie, if you’re interested in taking it in a few times. First up is the commentary track featuring director Brett Ratner, editor Mark Helfrich and co-writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson. The group obviously enjoyed working on the project, and it’s hard not to pick up a small amount of their enthusiasm. In addition there’s also Universal’s “U-Control”, that either lets you watch the film with a scant amount of picture-in-picture extras, or with some brief music cue information (pop up text). Finally, there is the “pocket Blu” app for tablets, which is actually quite slick. It detects the Blu-ray if you have a network-connected player, and then lets you interact with and control the movie from its touchscreen.
The main bonus item is a seven-part feature entitled “Plotting Tower Heist” (HD, 44:42) which breaks down choosing the actors, planning the heist sequence, and some of the visual set pieces. “Brett Ratner’s Video Diary” (HD, 22:42) is a collection of on-the-set video while making the movie. There are two alternate endings, “15 Months Later” (HD, 0:46) and “Lester’s Bar” (HD, 1:49), the latter of which would have been a nice coda for the film. A selection of deleted and alternate scenes (HD, 5:58) are included, none of which would have really helped out much. And of course there’s a gag reel (HD, 4:18) of additional improvs and missed lines, which is actually pretty decent.
The Blu-ray release of Tower Heist gives a truly winning presentation to an amazingly mediocre film. It’s not a bad renter for a Friday night where you just want to unwind, not have to think, and watch some good looking high-definition. But it’s hard to recommend for much else, except to display how a high-dollar cast, great cinematography and special effects don’t necessarily buy you a great movie.