Andy Bockelman: ‘Tower Heist’ snatches some good laughs |

Andy Bockelman: ‘Tower Heist’ snatches some good laughs

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Most thieves have the sense to wear ski masks or at least pantyhose on their heads when they're in the middle of breaking and entering.

When the rookie burglars of "Tower Heist" have to settle for Peruvian chullos with pom-poms, there's little doubt they might not be the best in the business.

At Manhattan's premier apartment complex The Tower, everyone on staff from Lester the doorman (Stephen McKinley Henderson) to general manager Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is devoted to providing wealthy residents with the best service money can buy.

At the top of the list of well-to-do people in The Tower, as well as the proprietor of the building's penthouse, is billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who's come into a bit of legal trouble.

Actually, a lot of legal trouble.

Nabbed by the FBI on multiple counts of defrauding his investors, Shaw becomes the most hated man in New York City within a matter of minutes of getting handcuffed.

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The employees of The Tower have just as much reason to revile the financier since he has swindled them out of their pensions, leading Josh to come up with a plan.

Believing Shaw to have millions stashed away in his apartment, he rallies a handful of co-workers to take back what's rightfully theirs. But, when Josh enlists the help of a hoodlum (Eddie Murphy) from his neighborhood for criminal consultation it becomes painfully obvious that he and his friends may be in over their heads.

Stiller can portray a pretty good leader when he wants to, with Josh able to keep a sizable workforce intact while still giving the folks of The Tower the proper personal touch. But, even he can be pushed too far by the upper crust, and a betrayal by online chess partner Shaw makes things all the more upsetting.

Alda's reputation as a nice guy in his day-to-day life just makes it all the more intriguing when he plays a villain. Shaw may not exactly be Scarface sitting in his palatial abode, but his opulent sense of style would rival even Tony Montana, with the imprint of a C-note on the floor of his rooftop swimming pool and Steve McQueen's Ferrari on display in his living room as he looks down on the hoi polloi.

At least other crooks aren't so arrogant as to expect a full apology from the inconvenience of being arrested.

Returning to form as the fast-talking reprobate type we grew to love in "48 Hrs." and "Trading Places," Murphy finally has a funny live-action role for the first time in years.

As the man known only as Slide, the comedian takes command of an array of people who need more than a little help in the world of larceny.

Some aren't so hopeless, like Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe), who takes a break from looking for a green card marriage to serve as the group's expert safecracker, while others on the crew are borderline useless, such as slow-on-the-uptake elevator operator, Enrique (Michael Peña); Josh's brother-in-law, Charlie (Casey Affleck), The Tower's inept concierge; and Mr. Fitzhugh, (Matthew Broderick), a freshly evicted Tower resident and former broker who was on the wrong end of the stock market crisis.

The plight of the people taken for a ride in the last few years on the Wall Street Tilt-a-Whirl makes this story of "rob from the rich" an easy one to get behind regardless of how you may feel about politics of the Occupy movement.

When you're talking about a Bernie Madoff-like baddie with Ponzi schemes out the wazoo who steals simply because he can, there's no need to question whether two wrongs make a right, although our ensemble isn't too concerned with the ethics of their plot.

Such is the case with most action-comedies, and those directed by Brett Ratner are hardly different.

The "Rush Hour" filmmaker allows for an equal balance of chuckles and escalating stunts without making either cumbersome and may just have found a new pair of go-to stars in Stiller and Murphy to replace Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.

Unerringly thrilling and often hilarious, "Tower Heist" is exactly what an action-comedy should be, and don't think that blending the two genres isn't a tough job, as is evidenced by Ratner's expertise in this kind of hybrid.

Maybe "Red Dragon" — his attempt at directing a Hannibal Lecter film — would have been more successful if he'd played it for laughs.

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“Tower Heist”

3 out of 4 stars

104 minutes

Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Alan Alda and Casey Affleck.