There’s a lot of players and relationships to establish, and the film takes about the first twenty minutes to do so before even getting to the inciting incident. In other films, such a lengthy setup would feel laborious and leave viewers wishing the flick would just get to the action already. That we are engaged the whole time speaks well to the writing and the cast; it’s fun getting to know these people. We don’t need a relentless high-concept to be entertained, but when that plot does kick in things just get better.

Thankfully the plot doesn’t overrun the characters; their traits, quirks and dynamics remain front and center the whole time, even fueling events. While each one fits archetypal roles, none are reduced to lifeless cogs in the script’s plot machinery.  The diversity, too, doesn’t feel like demographic affirmative action. Each actor defines the purpose and presence of his or her character in this large ensemble. Hardship and struggle is not taken for granted by fleeting or perfunctory exposition; time is taken to build legitimate empathy.   

Murphy hasn’t been this funny in years (his Slide plays like one of Axel Foley’s bizarre ad-libs), Alda relishes the villain role in subtle rather than scenery-chewing ways, and Tea Leoni (Ghost Town) proves she’s better-suited at being a tough-and-funny dame than a conventional ingenue. Many other recognizable stars—old and new—complete the well-rounded cast, all anchored by Stiller who is best when exercising his unique gift for bringing high comic energy to a straight-man role.

As director, Ratner isn’t merely well-versed in action tropes but is a self-avowed fanboy and student of blockbusters  from a generation ago. It should come as no surprise, then, that in Tower Heist he delivers a slick homage to ‘80s-style Action-Comedy (as does Murphy—that era’s icon—as both co-star and producer) in a very old-school way. 

Many action scenes today are an incoherent mess of editing and special effects, but Ratner’s approach is a well-staged mix of energy and style that never gets lost in some headache-inducing hyperkinetic hodgepodge. Even the music score takes a traditionally big, brassy approach that makes it all feel more classicly cinematic rather than instantly disposable.

The climactic heist itself takes turns we can’t see coming and even grows to truly preoposterous proportions, but by that point we’re hooked in and ready to go on whatever ride they want us to take, no matter how far-fetched. We care, too, which goes a long way when your brain needs to look the other way.

Though the comic tone is broad and appealing, parents should know it’s often vulgar. Profanity is pervasive throughout, and sexual dialogue ranges from crude words to stongly suggestive innuendos and even literal references. A total absence of f-words is the only explanation for the film’s PG-13 as many parents will feel it is closer to the R-rated ‘80s comedies it clearly emulates.

Even with its strengths considered, no one should go in expecting this to be more than what it is. In fact, the film’s greatest strength is in not trying to be more than what it is. Instead, it’s great at simply being what it’s trying to be—the kind of entertainment that only Hollywood can do. When people go to the theater looking for that, Tower Heist is the kind of movie they’re hoping for.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Some drinking at a bar; comical inebriation.
  • Language/Profanity: Pervasive. The s-word is the most constant offender, but the full array of swear words (with the exception of the f-word; there are none) are on display throughout as well. The n-word racial slur is used. The Lord’s name is taken in vain a handful of times, both as GD as well as Christ’s name. Sexual words and conversations are also common (see below).
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: No sex or nudity, but crude sexual slang (for breasts and genitalia) peppers some conversations. Sexually suggestive exchanges/flirtations occur on a couple of occasions. Crude references to arousal, stimulation and fondling are made. A sexual spanking is referred to, as is sex in a bathroom. A discussion of lesbians occurs, but not in a graphic way.
  • Violence: There is an implied suicide attempt of a man walking in front of a subway (but not seen). There are fisticuffs, gunplay, etc. but never visually graphic and always in a comedic context.