TOWER HEIST (2011) (**1/2)
For a heist to work it needs a good plan, but it also needs perfect execution. Brett Ratner's heist comedy has a good plan, but doesn't deliver on the details. It's inspired by the Bernie Madoff scandal where the fraudulent investor bankrupted the savings of thousands of people. In the film, a wealthy investor runs a similar Ponzi scheme, but in this fiction his victims set out to steal the millions he has hidden in his penthouse apartment.
Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller, TROPIC THUNDER) is the general manager of the most luxurious apartment tower in New York City. He tells the new elevator operator Enrique (Michael Pena, CRASH) that residents aren't just buying posh pads and top security, but also the 24-7 attention of the staff. Kovacs is great at his job and impresses the penthouse owner Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda, TV's MASH). But when Shaw is arrested for fraud, Kovacs has to tell his employees that their pension fund has been wiped out. Feeling responsible, he decides to break into Shaw's apartment and steal the money he knows is hidden there.
Kovacs believes that his knowledge of everything that goes on at the apartment will give him the advantage. He enlists Enrique because he knows electronics from his days at DeVry. Kovacs also wants Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF), a resident who was evicted from his apartment at The Tower after losing everything in the stock market; his brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES), who was once the concierge at the apartment complex; and Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe, PRECIOUS), a Jamaican who works as a maid and has other useful skills. But Kovacs knows that his crew are not seasoned criminals, so he enlists a known thief from his neighborhood named Slide (Eddie Murphy, BEVERLY HILLS COP), who gives the guys a crash course on robbing.
Story credit goes to Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Ted Griffin, with the latter getting screenwriting credit with Jeff Nathanson. The story does a good job setting up its scenario and its characters. Kovacs' guilt for being the one who asked Shaw to invest the pension fund is relatable. The script gets more personal as the elderly doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson, TV's LAW & ORDER) is distraught over not being able to retire as planned. FBI agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni, SPANGLISH) has sympathy for the employees, but gives them the reality of how difficult it will be to recover the money. It all works until the actual heist starts.
If the Tower is supposed to have top of the line security, you have to make us feel it. Kovacs and his crew get in too easily. This starts off a series of coincidences and luck that make up this heist. The plot adds on more complications that make every turn increasingly preposterous and destroys credibility. At one point, it seems that Shaw might get away with his crimes, which compiled with all the obvious things the FBI miss, makes this look like the most incompetent FBI team ever assembled.
If you can skip over all the holes, one might be able to find crowd-pleasing charm in the David versus Goliath tale. But you're really going to have to turn off logic. The more the plot doesn't work, the more the other flaws come to the surface. The script doesn't mine enough humor from the inexperience of its heist crew. These average Joes become Danny Ocean by the end. The problem is that there is nothing as ingenious in this heist as in OCEAN'S ELEVEN. And ingenuity is always the most important part to make any heist film work.