Last year only one fiction film really engaged with the issues around Occupy Wall Street. Set in New York, the 99%, the disenfranchised took on a fictional banker to strike a blow for the little man, the trodden on, the people who did follow the rules. And what a banker – an obscene penthouse occupying, master of the universe with an hugely bad taste swimming pool, Steve McQueen’s car from Bullitt in his apartment and has the leering air of Hawkeye from M*A*S*H. Cos its Alan Alda. This recession revenge film plays with the class struggle by subtly giving us flawed middle management heroes – those who organise the revolution here are the squeezed middle, not even those at the bottom of the ladder. Except, well, Eddie Murphy phones in a lousy eighties performance and did I mention the whole thing is directed by Brett Ratner.
Tower Heist’s main problem is in its name. Die Hard could have been called Tower Heist. Die Hard IS a Tower Heist. But instead it has a name like Die Hard because that makes it interesting, makes it sound exciting, is intriguing. Who is the John McClane and why is he so Die Hard? In Tower Heist, Ben Stiller’s shafted hotel manager decides to rob Alan Alda’s banker. In many ways it isn’t even really a heist. It is breaking and entering. Penthouse Robbery would have been even more apt, and even less prosaic.
I’ve always liked Ben Stiller, but there are occasions when he is happy to settle for mediocre. And Tower Heist is mediocre. Stiller plays a lazy lowkey Ben Stiller type from the early 00’s. Eddie Murphy plays an tired Eddie Murphy type from the late eighties. Matthew Broderick is settling to play the Matthew Broderick type – but those lousy 00’s retired, given up on life type of recent Broderick’s roles. And Casey Affleck, well he’s done Heist’s before in Ocean’s 11 so he is pretty much on as the experienced guy. Oh and the reason for the heist? Well its a pure Robin Hood job, to get their pensions back, so its not a proper robbery at all! So a bog standard plot, relying on star power, so far so Hollywood. With a decent stylist in control of the film, with a grasp on the post recession realities there may be enough to make this a decent, even subversive film. But it is directed by Brett Ratner who can describe a set piece, but not really film one.
I guess what bothers me the most about Tower Heist is that as a New York film, it really could have hit the zeitgeist. If the film had ended with the hotel staff rising up and occupying the hotel then you would have had a film. Admittedly I wanted the proletariat to rise up at the start of the Kings Speech too. Perhaps you can’t judge a film on what it should have been, but you can juxtapose it with what it is – and this is a lazy, poorly made heist which has been cut to death (there are characters in the final act that just vanish). Often with comedies its about catching a bit of magic. Here everything should have aligned, a potential return to form for Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller playing a perfect role for him. And smuggle in a decent piece of proper social commentary. Or alternatively do a few dumb misogynistic gags about a fat woman. They chose the latter.