Over the weekend, I attended a screening of "Tower Heist," a new comedy that pits a group of working-class employees at a residential high-rise against a corrupt financial investor. The first scene shows the investor swimming in a rooftop pool with an image of a $100 bill at its base. That’s the story's first symbol of cold opulence in a story rife with them.
In the film, Alan Alda plays Arthur Shaw, an "investor extraordinaire." Shaw lives in the penthouse suite of a building simply known as “The Tower.” Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) manages the building and follows Shaw around, making sure to keep the prized resident happy. As a favor for Kovacs, Shaw had invested the pensions of all of the tower’s employees for him. However, as the story begins, Shaw tries to escape town when his financial scheme collapses.
His actions have lost the pension funds for all of the tower’s employees, who are still tasked with serving Shaw when he is put under house arrest.
Kovacs acts remarkably professional about the situation, despite the fact that he had personally given Shaw the pension funds. However, when one of his employees -- who had given Shaw all his personal savings to invest-- attempts to kill himself, Kovacs stops being a voiceless victim and becomes a vengeful vigilante. He and his fellow employees at the high-rise ally themselves with a local criminal named Slide (Eddie Murphy) in order to steal money from a safe in Shaw’s apartment.
The film succeeds as a comedy about a group of regular people who seek revenge on a corrupt investor. Murphy, who has struggled to remain fresh in films over the past few years, provides a few great laughs onscreen. His profanely amusing character- who is a criminal nutcase—is uninhibited and out of control. Alongside a strong cast that also includes Tea Leoni as an FBI agent, and Casey Affleck as a soon-to-be father, this film is fresh and funny.
“Tower Heist” is also timely in its depiction of people rising up against corruption. Fortunately, for audiences, the story is smart enough not to engage in class warfare (unlike “In Time,” which proudly announced its ideological premise).
After Kovacs realizes that his friend has nearly killed himself over losing his savings, he takes a bat and slams it into Shaw’s classic Ferrari, which was once owned by Steve McQueen. Many people who lost their money to unethical investors may dream of doing this themselves. But "Tower Heist" is smart about it. Kovacs, while being applauded by even the FBI, is eventually punished for his crime. Protesting is one thing but committing a crime is another thing entirely and this story knows the difference. “Occupy Wall Street” protestors should take note of the distinction.
Ironically, one thing that isn’t pointed out is how self-destructive Kovacs’ actions are. If Shaw is convicted, the car would likely be sold and some of the money earned from it could be returned to the people who were jilted by Shaw himself. Thus destroying the car serves no one but Kovacs himself. The car eventually becomes an important part of the story but the stupidity of Kovacs'earlier actions are never fully discussed.
Regardless, “Tower Heist” is a solid comedy that doesn’t settle for easy solutions. Yes, it’s about thieves but it never takes its premise too seriously. The ending may be ridiculous and its conclusion ultimately leaves some questions unanswered about Shaw’s other victims but it’s a fun story nevertheless.