Originally envisioned as Brett Ratner’s “black Ocean’s Eleven,” the action-comedy Tower Heist has gone through a few significant changes since then, owing to these crazy, crazy times we live in. For one thing, the initial premise of a bunch of working-class dudes looking to rob Donald Trump has been given a contemporary, Bernie Madoff-style spin, substituting Alan Alda’s underhanded investment manager as the target, and thereby making it easier to root for his undoing for reasons other than his being an ordinary rich jackass. For another, Ben Stiller is now the jilted chief of staff at Alda’s luxury high-rise who organizes this ragtag group of thieves—all out to recover the pensions they lost to Alda’s nefarious wheeling and dealing—which should also evoke slightly more sympathy, as Stiller is the nebbishy everyman whose foibles and humiliations are recognizably our own. Or something.
In keeping with that newfound universality, Stiller’s crew is equally diverse, comprised as it is of (an even more nebbishy) Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña, and Gabourey Sidibe, who even layers her performance with a thick Caribbean accent so as to cover all the bases. (It’s not clear how exactly Téa Leoni also factors in there, but it’s nice to see her in a big movie again.) Anyway, although it’s changed somewhat from his original “vision,” Tower Heist remains unmistakably slick and Ratner-y, even harking back to his most successful franchise in that much of the comedy is derived from the tense, racially charged interplay between Stiller and robbery expert ringer Eddie Murphy, who appears to be imitating Chris Tucker imitating Eddie Murphy in some bizarre, hall of mirrors refraction—one that promises to get very loud indeed. In fact, when the tightly wound Stiller’s inevitable implosion meets Murphy’s manic whirlwind, the Tower and its surrounding city blocks may well be leveled in a sonic boom of rapid, adenoidal yelling. After all, every elaborate heist needs a secret weapon.