Bottom line first: It’s not nearly as bad as you’re expecting. But before you run out and buy tickets to Tower Heist, I have to remind you about all the qualifications this film carries with it: It stars Ben Stiller, who hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak lately (is he officially known, now, as the guy from those Fockers movies?). It costars Eddie Murphy, who somehow found his way out of the fat suit he got stuck in back in the early aughts. It’s directed by Brett Ratner, who has never, in his entire directorial career, ever shown even a single ounce of directorial talent. And it features a host of wealthy Hollywood stars as a crew of embittered luxury apartment building employees who have to steal millions away from the Bernie Madoff–inspired crook (a nicely menacing Alan Alda) who demolished their pensions in his grandiose pyramid scheme, making the movie feel like an insincere attempt to pander to Occupy Wall Street. If you approach Tower Heist with anything less than trepidation in your heart, you haven’t been paying attention to movies for the last 10 years.
But! Like I said, it’s not so bad. None of the actors phone in their performances. Stiller isn’t quite the schlubby everyman the script needs him to be, but he cuts back on the creepy lizard stare that’s become his trademark. Casey Affleck rounds out his flimsy character—Stiller’s needy brother-in-law—to a pleasantly unnecessary extent. Gabourey Sidibe is charming as a Jamaican housekeeper who is also an expert safecracker for some reason.
The central heist—partial script credit goes to Ocean’s Eleven and Matchstick Men screenwriter Ted Griffin—isn’t as clever as it believes it is, defying physics and logic at nearly every turn. Though the script deserves props for not stooping to fat jokes or homophobia for easy laughs, it’s not exactly laugh-a-minute, either. But Ratner is almost restrained in his direction, showing a knack for narrative coherence that has escaped him up till now, while still genially embracing spectacle as often as possible. (The heist must take place during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade because of, uh, serious plot-type reasons.) The resulting movie isn’t so good that you should go out of your way to see it, but if you’re trying to figure out a movie your entire family can agree on after Thanksgiving dinner, nobody will come away from Tower Heist hating themselves.