Working stiffs seek revenge on a Ponzi schemer, enlisting Eddie Murphy along the way.
Comedy is funnier when it rebounds off a hard reality, and the money woes underpinning "Tower Heist" give the caper a solid bounce.
It's a stunt-heavy comedy, but its world resembles ours more than most movies do. A working-class "Ocean's Eleven" reflecting our economic mess is a vision a lot more relevant -- and funnier -- than comedies about men in drag, competitive bird watchers or talking zoo animals.
Ben Stiller plays the manager of a luxury high-rise who leads the employees in a raid on penthouse owner Alan Alda, a scheming financier who vaporized their pensions while keeping a golden parachute for himself. Eddie Murphy comes aboard as a cool, back-talking crime consultant. Not only do we vicariously participate in their coup and revel as wit and grit triumph over financial power, we have the bonus of seeing two top comic actors escape their long imprisonment in flaccid family movies.
This is surely the comedy cast of the year. Stiller is the vulnerable, understated balance to Murphy's high-wire exuberance. Alda is wonderful as the slick tycoon, glad-handing the residential tower's employees with an oily layer of fraternal bonhomie. Matthew Broderick is priceless as a melancholy ex-Wall Streeter whose bankruptcy also wiped out his self-confidence. Casey Affleck is droll and sleepy-eyed as the quietly ambitious desk clerk and Michael Pena is gallon-of-Red-Bull hyper as the newly hired elevator operator.
Gabourey Sibide is an immigrant maid in need of a marriage visa, and Tea Leoni plays an FBI agent who is first on Alda's tail, then on the penthouse raiders'. The cast is a jabber of Jews and Koreans, Jamaicans and WASPs, Russians and Italians bantering and snapping and flirting at each other. Without straining to deliver a message, the diversely entertaining personalities say something optimistic about America.
The mechanics of the heist are far-fetched even for a Brett Ratner action comedy, and the plot leaves enough unresolved lines dangling to knit a fringed afghan. Still, why gripe? The script has some fine, original scenes including a sequence in which Murphy assigns his untested co-conspirators to prove their determination by shoplifting something.
It's full of well-timed impediments to the robbery and peppered with sly references to the featured actors' earlier efforts, from "Trading Places" to "Ferris Bueller" to the "Ocean" movies.
I left the movie happy but wishing that the women's roles were as fleshed out as the men's. At the end of a barroom scene with Stiller, Leoni does a funny half-drunk stumble-step that momentarily reminds you what a fine physical comedian she is. Maybe we'll see more of them in the sequel that's likely to follow.