by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Tower Heist is a movie about a bunch of working class stiffs who had just had enough, when a wealthy tenant who lives in the ridiculously luxurious New York apartment building where they all work bilks them out of their money in some kind of fraudulent investment scheme. It’s a nod to the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme, and none other than Alan Alda plays the obnoxious penthouse owner/Wall Street titan named Arthur Shaw.
I say he plays this role well, because I saw Alda and other cast members in New York a few years back in the play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and while everyone hung around to sign autographs, he left the theatre quickly after curtain close. He was a notch above the commoners then, and he is pretty arrogant in this role. He looks down on the employees, even though I really believe he thinks he is paying them compliments from time to time.
After a decade of managing the building, Josh, played by Ben Stiller, watches as FBI agents come to arrest Arthur for stealing from his investors and it’s discovered that he invested the employees’ pension funds—one such employee being the doorman Lester, played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, who is just about ready to retire. Eddie Murphy plays Slide, Gabourey Sidibe, plays Odessa, Hollywood veteran Matthew Broderick plays resident accountant Fitzhugh and Casey Affleck is Charlie.
So the gang, led by Josh, decides to steal back what they believe could be nearly $20 million and what they believe is hidden in a safe in Arthur’s apartment. But they aren’t thieves, and, as in Horrible Bosses, they find the black man to help with this ruse. Slide is a character for Murphy that at first seems like it was taken out of the Trading Places playbook, even though his character does get better. I have sat through enough movies with Murphy cussing the same rant, using the “N” word and getting arrested, waiting for anybody to bail him out. But who better to help with a heist than the brother (as far as Hollywood is concerned; and at least in this case, it’s noted that the black man playing the criminal—Murphy—is credited as one of the movie’s producers).
But after grooming the crew and after some well-laid plans, Slide betrays them and attempts to steal the money himself. However, he’s disarmed and Odessa—who plays a Jamaican housekeeper, one action away from deportation—carries on with her job as the safecracker. It turns out that her father is a locksmith. But Slide’s betrayal shouldn’t come as a surprise, and he reminds them that he’s a thief and he would just as soon steal from them—or steal their plans from right under their eyes.
But even with Odessa’s expertise, plans still are off kilter, and the employees find no money in the safe; but they do figure out that Arthur must have hidden the money in his vintage, red Ferrari, once owned by the legendary Steve McQueen. They are on the money, literally, as they discover that the cash isn’t in the car, but that the car is made of solid gold. Now, they are charged with trying to get the car from the Penthouse, before the FBI and Arthur return home.
Tower Heist is funny movie, and I loved watching Odessa, Slide and Lester, three notable actors—even though Lester is more easily known for his stage work, most recently as Jim Bono in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” which starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Sidibe is coming into her own as an actress, getting many roles in which she’s been able to break out from the depressive “Precious,” as her role in Tower Heist requires her to speak with a West Indian accent, which she delivers perfectly.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago, who also serves as a news editor for FilmMonthly.com
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