The back story for "Tower Heist," a spiffy crime caper starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy, is that the location of the tower was originally Trump Tower and the name of "The Donald"'s namesake Manhattan retail and residential Fifth Avenue high-rise was to have been included in the movie title.
Add to this a plotline echoing that of the Bernie Madoff investment scam whereby the wealthy and average investor lose life savings and you have the makings of movie that could have gone in one of two directions: playing it straight or playing it for laughs.
Director Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour" and its sequels), working from a screenplay by Ted Griffin ("Ocean's Eleven") and Jeff Nathanson ("The Terminal"), goes for the comedy. The dialogue, with many a tangental excursion into esoteric topics (a brief analysis of a "Matlock" plot, for example), is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Of course, the premise is not funny.
The casting of Stiller, with his big-eyed intensity and steady grimace in full effect, along with Murphy, who shifts from wild-eyed outrage to slack-jawed jests in less than a second, will distract most movie-goers from the plot holes and questionable conclusion.
Including deadpan Matthew Broderick as a banker downsized to homelessness, a so sincere it hurts Casey Affleck, a street-wise Michael Pena and a safe-cracking Gabourey Sidibe on the heist team adds to the "Ocean's 11"-like merriment.
The stunts and set pieces recall "Mission Impossible" movies. To get into what actually happens during the latter part of "Tower Heist" would spoil the surprise for you.
In "Tower Heist," Josh Kovacs (Stiller), manager of an exclusive high-rise New York City condo, has invested the building's employees' pension funds with Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), head of an investment firm.
Shaw is "master of his universe" in the Tom Wolfe Wall Street sense until FBI agents, led by Claire (Tea Leoni) arrive, arrest him, and charge him with securities fraud of "epic proportions."
Josh, seeking revenge, enlists the aid of Slide (Murphy), a street hustler and thief, in an attempt to break into Shaw's apartment where $20 million is believed to be hidden.
"Tower Heist" has the slick look and fast-pacing of a big-budget action movie, which you might expect from producer Brian Grazer ("Cowboys & Aliens," "Robin Hood").
The key action set-piece, a phenomenal, nail-biting scene, involves an elevator, window-washing machine and 1963 Ferrari (purportedly once owned by Steve McQueen).
A brief under-the-elevated car chase is an homage to the similar, more lengthy "Popeye" Doyle crash-'em-up in "The French Connection."
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, with Snoopy, Kermit the Frog and other larger-than-life inflatables, including Joan Rivers and Matt Lauer, figures prominently in the final scene.
"Tower Heist" is one of the surprises of the season. It's better than expected. As long as you don't think took much about it, you'll have a good time. It's sheer entertainment.
"Tower Heist," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for language and sexual content; Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime; Run time: 1 hour, 44 minutes; Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: Robert Downey Sr., referred to as "The Prince," has a small role as Judge Ramos in "Tower Heist."
Box Office, Nov. 4: "Puss in Boots" continued at No. 1, with hardly a drop in its gross, $33 million, $75.5 million, two weeks, keeping "Tower Heist" opening at No. 2, with $25.1 million, and "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," opening at No. 3, with $13 million.
4. "Paranormal Activity 3," $8.5 million, $95.3 million, three weeks; 5. "In Time," $7.7 million, $24.2 million, two weeks; 6. "Footloose," $4. million, $44.8 million, four weeks; 7. "Real Steel," $3.4 million, $78.7 million, five weeks; 8. "The Rum Diary," $2.9 million, $10.4 million, two weeks; 9. "The Ideas of March," $2 million, $36.8 million, five weeks; 10. "Moneyball," $1.9 million, $70.3 million, seven weeks
Unreel, Nov. 11:
"Jack and Jill," PG: Adam Sandler plays Jack and his twin sister, Jill, in the home-for-Thanksgiving comedy which also stars Katie Holmes.
"J. Edgar," R: Clint Eastwood directs Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role in the biopic about the United States' FBI chief. Naomi Watts also stars in the drama.
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes