What do you call a movie that’s not NOT funny and not NOT entertaining? Tower Heist sounds right. The latest film from director Brett Ratner has some fun moments to keep the audience engaged but never puts the claws in. It never grabs you. Never makes you laugh until you cry or pump your fist with excitement. It’s a by the numbers crime comedy that lives and dies with its setting, its actors and a few choice moments. Most of the time it’s mindless and, if that’s your kind of thing, you may love it. But if you demand a movie that demands something of its audience, Tower Heist will be sorely disappointing.

Tower Heist stars Ben Stiller as Josh, the manager of the richest apartment building in Manhattan. When the building’s most important resident, played by Alan Alda, goes all Bernie Madoff and loses the employee pensions, Stiller and a small group of people – Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena, Casey Affleck and Eddie Murphy in his unceremonious return to comedy – decide to rob him.

There’s much a lot more to it. A lot more. Like an hour plus of set up before the titular heist actually takes place in the film’s final act. What’s wild is that the script, by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, doesn’t really develop any characters in this time. Instead we’re force fed plot, plot and more plot, some of which is interesting, some of which is not, but is all there to fool the audience into enjoying themselves.

And up to that point, it works. The movie is borderline intriguing, entertaining and funny. Once the heist goes down, though, everything – especially logic – goes out the window. In Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, most of the events that happened were a stretch, but you believed those characters could pull the job off. In Tower Heist, you never once, for a second, believe any of these characters could pull off any part of this plan (not to mention the magical physics that are too spoilery to detail). And while that level of ignorance is okay for Stiller, Broderick and a few of the other characters, Murphy is the biggest offender. Murphy’s character, Slide, is like an over-the-top stereotype Axel Foley or Reggie Hammond would have put on to scare a bunch of tourists. It’s never real, never believable and never threatening or interesting. He’s just there and it’s painful.

But still, all the while, you are somehow occasionally chuckling and invested in what happens next. Credit that to the incredibly likable actors that populate most of Tower Heist. They’re almost enough to give the film a pass, but not quite. Instead you’re left with a piece of large scale Hollywood schlock that audiences will eat up, as long as they don’t think about it too much.

/Film rating: 5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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