Tower Heist is the stupidest movie I’ve seen in some time, but I enjoyed myself thoroughly. No matter what it gets wrong — and it gets a lot wrong, from plausibility to character interactions to basic storytelling — it hangs on doggedly to its central theme of class warfare. A thousand weekend thinkpieces will surely do their best to link the success of the film (going out on a limb here; my theater was at capacity, and it was a late showing) to the Occupy movements, especially the 99% rhetoric, but the primary thing it has in common with the OWS protesters is its lack of any coherent political agenda — Fuck the Rich is as far as its platform for social change goes, and if Brett Ratner has to bend legal, architectural, mathematical, and physical reality to make sure the rich get fucked, he’ll be happy to do so.
As it happens, Fuck the Rich is about the only political platform I feel sure of endorsing right now, so I’m more forgiving of the Ratnerian excess — so many swooping crane shots! — than I might otherwise be. The cast helps a lot; indeed the primary pleasure of the movie is in the performances. There’s lots of sweet, smart character business in the first half of the movie, which helps sell the dumb-as-hell second half, when logic goes hurtling out the window with everything else. Ben Stiller plays his usual repressed rageaholic with a veneer of professionalism that only breaks down once or twice and is all the more effective for it; Eddie Murphy is fantastic (except for the scenes where he prisses around in a suit, which seem dropped in from Meet Dave or whateverthefuck); Casey Affleck and Matthew Broderick make their one-note characters emotionally effective, and Michael Peña and Téa Leoni don’t get in their own way too often. Gabourey Sibide does great things with a character part that could easily be laughing at her rather than with her; even hampered by a fluctuating Jamaican accent, her silken authority refuses to let Ratner’s fat jokes stand, converting them instead into raw confidence. (I believed the chemistry between her and Murphy in the one scene that’s in all the trailers far more than I ever believed the token efforts of Stiller and Leoni.)
I’ve seen disappointment that it’s no Ocean’s Eleven, but although I’d call Ocean’s Eleven one of the best movies of the past ten years, its burnished, luxurious tone would be all wrong for the scrappy, improvised nature of Tower Heist’s plot. Ocean’s Eleven is a movie about millionaires robbing millionaires — Alan Alda’s villain (really well played, charismatic and enjoyable without allowing the audience a drop of sympathy for the character) would have fit right into Clooney’s gang of smooth system-gamers, any of whom could walk away at any time. The solutions Tower Heist comes up with are ludicrous, but the problems are real as shit.
In fact, a movie that was smarter, or more realistic about its protagonists’ chances for success, would probably resonate less with the real 99%. Not that I’m expecting Tower Heist to be instrumental in tearing down the shackles of capitalism — as the lipstick commercial shown before the movie demonstrates, Hollywood ruins everything — but a movie in which low-income service-sector workers (among whom ethnic background, education level, immigration status, and prison history make no difference) are the heroes and a kindly white billionaire is the villain is a movie I would have shown to every elementary school in the country.
It’s not a great movie. It’s not even an (aesthetically) good movie. But it’s a movie I needed just now.