In the money: Brett Ratner's 'Tower Heist' a fun, star-studded caper

Crime romp: From left

Lock enough monkeys in a room with a typewriter, and one of them will eventually bang out “Hamlet.” Lock Brett Ratner in a room with enough gifted comedians — among them Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda and Michael Peña — and eventually they will produce a farce as animated and effortlessly diverting as “Tower Heist.”

Ratner, whose last big-screen offering, “Rush Hour 3,” sucked Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan’s amiable chemistry into a void of numbing banality, should be smart enough to know that lazy storytelling is no laughing matter, however furiously his actors work to compensate. (So should Stiller. Remember “Mystery Men”?)

Yet there is never a sense that the director or his shrewdly assembled cast is coasting here.

“Heist” isn’t the smartest movie to confront America’s financial crisis and the culpability of soulless swindlers such as Bernie Madoff, but it’s one of the funniest, thanks as much to Murphy’s hilarious, rapid-fire verbal assaults as Ratner’s unusually disciplined approach.

Murphy, like Jamie Foxx in this summer’s “Horrible Bosses,” plays a criminal consultant, enlisted to help the clock-punching employees of a high-rise for the super-rich pull off the ultimate revenge fantasy.

After a Madoff-like tyrant (Alda) rips off their pensions, his embittered servants — led by straight man Josh (Stiller) — resolve to steal what’s left of his fortune.

The ensuing mischief is every bit as far-fetched as Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson’s broad, easily accessible screenplay requires it to be. Despite a premise seemingly given to social satire, “Heist” is less a populist call to arms than a popcorn caper that plays skillfully on popular resentment of the top 1 percenters.

In the past, Ratner might have leaned too heavily on Murphy to deliver the funny, as he did with the motor-mouthed Tucker in three increasingly desperate “Rush Hour” adventures. Here, he unleashes the former stand-up — once a viable candidate for funniest man on the planet — at the movie’s halfway point. Wise move.

Like the great white shark in “Jaws,” Murphy’s arrival has the effect of an adrenaline shot. Recapturing the manic, profane zeal he displayed in “Beverly Hills Cop” and his greatest, purest comedy, “Coming to America,” the 50-year-old veteran ignites the screen, deftly playing a trash-talking Penn to Stiller’s more subdued (but not unfunny) Teller.

The spell they cast is short-lived — “Heist” lacks the substance to stay with you past the closing credits — but it’s awfully fun while it lasts.

MOVIE REVIEW

Tower Heist

★★★

Starring Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick
Written by Ted Griffin, Jeff Nathanson
Directed by Brett Ratner
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour 44 minutes

artsBen StillerEddie MurphyentertainmentMovies

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

City officials closed San Francisco County Jail No. 4 on the top floor of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. in September, reducing the number of beds in the jail system by about 400. 
Kevin N. Hume/
S.F. Examiner
SF jail closure prompts doctor to call for release of more inmates

Reduced space increases risk of COVID-19 spreading among those in custody

Cyclists have flocked to Market Street since private vehicles were largely banned from a long stretch of it in January. (Amanda Peterson/Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Plans for sidewalk-level bikeway on Market Street dropped due to costs, increased cyclist volume

Advocates say revisions to Better Market Street fail to meet safety goals of project

Prop. 21 would allow San Francisco city officials to expand rent control to cover thousands more units. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tenant advocates take another try at expanding rent control with Prop. 21

Measure would allow city to impose new protections on properties 15 years or older

Tenderloin residents are finding benefits to having roads closed in the neighborhood. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Should there be fewer cars in the Tenderloin’s future?

The pandemic has opened San Franciscans’ eyes to new uses of urban streets

Singer-songwriter Cam is finding musicmaking to be healing during 2020’s world health crisis. 
Courtesy 
Dennis Leupold
Cam challenges country music tropes

Bay Area-bred songwriter releases ‘The Otherside’

Most Read