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It's Josh Kovacs' job to anticipate every need and serve every pampered whim of the residents living in the high-end New York City high-rise called The Tower. And Josh is good at his job.
He's particularly aware of the well-being and happiness of the building's penthouse owner, investor Arthur Shaw. Shaw is the kind of guy who talks about buying hotels around the world. Who brags about owning his own island off Belize. Who keeps a classic red Ferrari, once Steve McQueen's, prominently displayed in his living room.
But all the wealth in the world can't keep the FBI from knocking on your door with charges of securities fraud in hand. Ouch. Josh almost feels sorry for the Wall Street guy. But then the building manager remembers that he personally asked Shaw to handle the investing of all the staff's pensions. And, well, his emotions suddenly change.
It looks like they've all just lost everything. FBI agent Claire Denham confirms his fears: There's nothing they can do. If Shaw is found guilty, his assets will be seized and his many investors will be left out in the cold. Which is pretty ironic, Denham confides over a drink with Josh, because the agency thinks Shaw probably has an emergency flight fund stashed somewhere in his posh penthouse. They haven't been able to find it, but it's suspected that he's stashed a $20 million nest egg up there.
After picking his jaw up off the ground, Josh starts putting his well-oiled sensibilities to work. There are members of the service staff with certain skills: some electrical savvy here, a family of locksmiths there. Could it be possible, he wonders, to pull together a small team of amateurs, devise a plan and steal back Shaw's ill-gotten gain? And could he be the Robin Hood who gives the people back what's theirs?
Josh feels the pinch of losing his money to Shaw, but he's much more impacted by the losses of the other employees—blaming himself for their negative outcomes. In fact, when Lester (the doorman) almost manages to commit suicide because of the financial devastation, Josh vows that he will do everything he can to make the situation right. And he begs Shaw to help those like Lester. (Shaw refuses. And that's when Josh's good instincts turn to bad actions. More on that in my "Conclusion.")
[Spoiler Warning] Josh ends up taking full blame for the criminal plot and readily accepts prison time to guarantee the release of his friends. He also finds and turns over evidence that helps the FBI finally nail Shaw to the wall.
One of Josh's crew, a maid named Odessa, crosses herself before attempting to break into a safe.
Street thug Slide, solicited by Josh to help with the burglary, has a girlfriend named Rita. She displays ample amounts of cleavage. He mentions that he's going inside to have sex with her while Josh and the guys work at their lock-picking skills. Looking at a picture of a busty woman identified as a lesbian, Slide makes several crude mentions of his preferences for chesty women. Looking for a husband, Odessa uses sly sexual flirtations and double entendres to try to attract Slide's attentions.
Josh clues in a cheating resident (who has a prostitute on his arm) about his wife's imminent arrival. He also threatens to reveal an employee's interactions with a resident "cougar." Josh walks into a Victoria's Secret store that sports pictures of underwear-clad models. He steals several pairs of panties, shoving them down the front of his pants.
A down-and-out former Wall Street trader says he's thinking of becoming a male prostitute. One of The Tower's guards gets caught up in "reading" a French version of Playboy. We see the magazine's cover, which displays a provocatively dressed woman in a clingy sheer top.
In a fit of anger, Josh begins smashing the windows of Shaw's Ferrari with a golf club. When Josh runs after a van he believes holds a kidnapping victim, FBI agent Denham flattens him with a clothesline move. A guy dangles precariously several stories above a crowded street. Slide and several others begin pointing guns at one another. Odessa rams an FBI agent with her maid's cart, knocking him out.
After losing all his money, The Tower's doorman walks toward an oncoming subway train to kill himself. The scene cuts away, and were told that a policeman stopped him in time.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 50 s-words. God's and Jesus' names are, together, misused a dozen or more times. Five or six times God's name is combined with "d‑‑n." We hear lots of uses of "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "b‑‑ch. The n-word is evoked a handful of times. There are many, many joking references to "vaginas," "farts," "d‑‑ks," "pr‑‑ks" and "balls." Yelled by children, "suck it" and "douche bag" show up in the same sentence.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Josh and Agent Denham drink large amounts of alcohol, becoming inebriated while talking at a local bar. Denham staggers around and quips, "The last time I drank this much I made out with a fireman." Josh and his crew drink beer on several occasions. Odessa sprinkles some kind of knock-out drug on a piece of cake, but the man she was going to give it to refuses the treat.
Other Negative Elements
To show Slide their level of commitment, Josh's handpicked crewmembers descend on a mall to steal stuff.
Some movies have such good (accidental) timing that they feel like they're part of the current news cycle. And with this one arriving in theaters just as the Occupy Wall Street folks are crying out about the evils of financial institutions and their overpaid fat cats, Tower Heist feels readymade for the times. If the protestors could leave the front lines and thaw out in a local theater for a couple of hours they'd probably find it very easy to cheer the film's "little guy fighting the man" storyline.
Some of them would still walk back to their posts disappointed, though. Because while Eddie Murphy still possesses the magical ability to turn a facial expression into a punch line, the script and most of the real acting is pretty flat. And there are logic holes here large enough to drive that bright red Ferrari through without so much as dinging a door panel.
But what we should all be upset about isn't aesthetics: It's the moral of the story. Here, it's that two wrongs really can make a right. Jesus tells us that if somebody takes your jacket, give him your shirt too. Josh tells us that's hooey: If you don't go get what's yours, nobody's gonna get it for you. Sure, he takes the fall when it's time for the fallout, and he presumably does what he does to help his struggling comrades. But strip away the emotion of the situation and those are just rationalizations. We all know that deep down. But Tower Heist rubs at our moral awareness, subtly questioning whether that's really how the world should work.
Add to that the fact that the dialogue isn't just foul, it's routinely foul. In its review, The Hollywood Reporter said the script is "peppered with smart-mouthed sass." I just call it vulgar, profane and occasionally obscene. And when that kind of language is part of a PG-13 film that's at least partially aimed at family audiences, well, that's something worth protesting.
No, I'm not suggesting scrawled signs or a pup tent city. But withholding a few hard-earned bucks from the makers of this particular corporate commodity isn't the worst idea you'll have this year.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ben Stiller as Josh Kovacs; Eddie Murphy as Slide; Alan Alda as Arthur Shaw; Matthew Broderick as Mr. Fitzhugh; Casey Affleck as Charlie; Téa Leoni as Special Agent Claire Denham
November 4, 2011
February 21, 2012