Who would have guessed that a comedy caper with its finger on the pulse of the times could be put together by Brett Ratner? Tower Heist is a film that's firmly planted in the now, from the director of former Rush Hour fame (and current notoriety for losing out as Oscar Show producer, thanks to an anti-gay remark, and sexually explicit chat on the Howard Stern show).

Tower Heist moves from depressing reality — a crooked financier who embezzles the pension funds of a bunch of low-paid workers via some sort of shady Ponzi scheme — to happy-making fantasy — the workers rally around to steal their money back.

Not that the film in itself is brilliant, far from it — for the first third, it seems to be going nowhere and when it gets going, it's content to be just good enough. However what makes “just good enough” enjoyable in the watching is the topicality, which elevates a ho-hum caper-by-numbers to something with bite.

The quirky — and extensive — cast line-up, known for their comedic flair, helps as well. The movie is taken up a few notches by the return-to-screen of 50-year-old Eddie Murphy, marking a welcome return to form.

Among the other comic talents is Ben Stiller as Josh Kovacs, the general manager of the Tower, a posh apartment complex (filmed, appropriately, at a property owned by Donald Trump). His staff includes brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck) a none-too-bright concierge, plus-plus-size Jamaican chambermaid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and bemused bellhop Enrique (Michael Pena).

Kovacs lives to serve every whim and fancy of his wealthy residents and a special favourite is billionaire financier Arthur Shaw — played to smooth-talking, shyster perfection by Alan Alda. Shaw's penthouse apartment is so large it can display a red vintage 1963 Ferrari in the living room.

Shaw is discovered to be more Bernie Madoff than financial maven, and Kovacs feels responsible that his co-workers' earnings have been wiped out: it was his idea to hand over the money to Shaw to invest. As Odessa tells Kovacs: “For the record, I never asked anyone to triple my portfolio.”

When FBI agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni) lets slip that Shaw's money to the tune of $20 million must be hidden in the penthouse, Kovacs gets the idea of stealing back all that was lost, and then some. The caper kicks off with Kovacs putting together a motley crew to raid the penthouse: some staff members, a broke ex-Wall Streeter (Matthew Broderick) and street criminal Slide (Murphy).

What follows is the best part of the film, the over-the-top heist atop the tower with such details as a car dangling over the edge with a man precariously hanging on to its fender, while Snoopy, SpongeBob SquarePants and Shrek float serenely below as part of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Tower Heist should have been, but isn't, an all-time great comedy caper. But it is great escapist fun to watch at least one swindling banker get his comeuppance on celluloid, since it just doesn't seem to be happening in real life.

Tower Heist

Genre: Comedy Caper

Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni

Storyline: Blue-collar workers unite to steal back their money from a self-satisfied embezzler.

Bottomline: Of-the-moment escapist fun that only works in the moment.

RELATED NEWS

English Cinema ReviewsOctober 17, 2011