Tower Heist could’ve been a highly entertaining comic caper, but like so many films directed by Brett Ratner, it settles for mediocrity. The premise itself has potential: a bunch of employees of a Trump Tower-style Manhattan high-rise seek payback on the building’s billionaire owner who robbed them of their retirement savings. Alas, the laughs dry up faster than you can say Ponzi, and the film quickly becomes a string of lazy gags. 

Despite a formidable cast that includes Ben Stiller as the earnest building manager, and Eddie Murphy as the street thief he hires to help him and his fellow co-workers rob their boss, this action comedy isn’t consistent enough to seize your attention. Some of the best moments involve Eddie Murphy, who unfortunately enters the film fairly late, but steals every scene he’s in with his irreverent smart-mouthed humor. Watch how he squirms under the sexual advances of a Jamaican housekeeping maid (played by Gabourey Sidibe of Precious), or how he tests his rookie partners by daring them to steal items from the local mall. 

The least you expect from any movie whose central conceit hinges on an intricate plan is a watertight screenplay without any holes. But Tower Heist appears to be scribbled together by writers just as raw as the crooks in this film. How do Stiller and his accomplices sneak into the building? Every single member of security has been lured away from his job by cake. Really? 

The film’s big set-piece involves Stiller and his gang stealing a red Ferrari out of a penthouse by dangling it from the building’s roof. It’s an outrageous scene, but you’re willing to suspend disbelief. The joke goes too far when they slip the car into the elevator shell and travel up and down the building with the car stationed vertically on a moving elevator. 

The rest of the cast includes Matthew Broderick, Michael Pena and Casey Affleck as Stiller’s comrades, and Alan Alda as their swindler boss. Tea Leoni shows up as an FBI agent who enjoys a brief flirtation with Stiller’s character. There are a few moments of inspired lunacy between the actors, but the film is never wholly satisfying as a fast-paced caper. 

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Brett Ratner’s Tower Heist. The only reason to watch it is for a glimpse of vintage Eddie Murphy. 

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