Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller steal back their careers from kiddy movies and tired franchises with “Tower Heist,” a canny action comedy that rewards its veteran actors with the best showcase they’ve had in years.
Effectively, if not dazzlingly, directed by Brett Ratner, “Tower Heist” stars Stiller, Murphy and Casey Affleck as blue- collar types taking elaborate revenge on a Madoff-like confidence man.
The timing of this movie is even more ingenious than its jigsaw puzzle plot.
Stiller plays Josh Kovaks, the Queens-born manager of a luxury condo overlooking Central Park (exteriors were filmed at the Trump Tower in Manhattan). Proximity to wealth doesn’t come with the One Percent’s Teflon protection, though, as Kovaks learns when the hotel staff’s pensions are lost by a slimy billionaire investor (Alan Alda, perfect) under penthouse arrest.
“All those years of opening doors,” bemoans a newly broke doorman, whose suicide attempt spurs Kovaks to take action.
Suspecting that the con artist has a fortune stashed away, Kovaks assembles a rag-tag gang to burgle the well-fortified, FBI-guarded apartment: a dim, good-hearted concierge (Affleck); a cocky bellhop (Michael Pena); a milquetoast ex-Merrill Lyncher (Matthew Broderick); and a maid (and locksmith’s daughter) played by Gabourey Sidibe.
All they’re missing is criminal know-how. Enter Murphy’s Slide, a small-time crook from Kovaks’ Queens neighborhood. Overcoming his initial reluctance, Slide signs on -- but only after testing the motley crew’s mettle with a shoplifting challenge.
Not for a second do screenwriters Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson concern themselves with the racial implications of the black man as a Yoda of street crime. For all its surface topicality and Robin Hood heart, “Tower Heist,” is as focused on cool mechanics and breezy comedy as any “Ocean’s 11” installment.
Though it looks great (the Trump-style luxury is spot-on), “Tower Heist” doesn’t come off without a hitch. By the time the billionaire’s Ferrari dangles from a skyscraper high above the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the film has ditched all pretense of plausibility. Which doesn’t make the payback any less sweet.
“Tower Heist,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***
‘Last Rites of Joe May’
Joe Maggio’s heartfelt “The Last Rites of Joe May” gives Dennis Farina the tough-guy role he was born to play and the leather jacket he was built to wear.
Farina plays Joe May, an aging two-bit hustler whose only protection against the bitter Chicago winter is a jacket that might have looked sharp on Shaft.
After a lengthy hospital stay and a bout of pneumonia, the old crook finds his rundown apartment has been rented to a luckless single mom (Jamie Anne Allman) and her young daughter (Meredith Droeger). As if “The Goodbye Girl” had been shot by John Cassavetes, “Last Rites” observes the lonely Joe’s growing, end-run attachment to his new flat mates and his pathetic, final attempts to re-enter the low-level criminal world that’s passed him by.
Maggio, who wrote and directed, can’t outrun the genre’s formulas (do all urban toughs have a soft spot for rooftop pigeons?). Still, the film builds to the end spoiled by its title with a lovely attention to Chicago’s bleak, snowy beauty and Farina’s finely etched performance.
“The Last Rites of Joe Maggio,” from Tribeca Film, is playing in New York. Rating: **1/2
‘Son of No One’
The murders aren’t nearly as senseless as the cover-ups in Dito Montiel’s half-baked cop thriller, “The Son of No One.”
Channing Tatum (Montiel’s go-to hero since “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”) plays Jonathan White, a second- generation New York cop with big secrets. In 1986, a young, terrified White (Jake Cherry, in flashbacks) shot and killed a violent neighbor in their Queens housing project.
There’s another death, too (three, if you count the adorable puppy White defends). The sympathetic detective investigating the cases (a restrained Al Pacino) covers up the boy’s involvement.
Moving forward to 2002, a local newspaper columnist (Juliette Binoche, miscast) receives a series of anonymous letters threatening to spill the beans.
Audiences will wonder what all the fuss is about -- the original incidents seem forgivable and hardly worth the bother of a 16-year conspiracy. The body count escalates in a gun battle on a Queens rooftop, with a near-catatonic Tracy Morgan as White’s old pal providing just a portion of the unintentional absurdity.
“The Son of No One,” from Anchor Bay Films, is playing in select U.S. cities. Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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