This is a timely comedy that attempts to cash in on the hostility towards Wall Street by having a group of average Joe’s get back at the benefactor of a Ponzi scheme. It defuses the tensions of the Great Recession through a lighthearted, disposable comedy.
Ben Stiller plays Josh Kovacks, a luxury apartment manager who unwisely asks tenant and Wall Street investor Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) to manage the pensions of the apartment staff. Shaw loses their money, is arrested on fraud and then let go. An ensuing confrontation with Shaw results in Josh and two other employees being fired. Josh then decides he will steal a $20 million stash in Shaw’s suite, and assembles a motley crew to do the job.
Alda plays his character with colour as opposed to a black and white villain that might be expected in a lighthearted movie like this. It’s the fault of the screenplay that Shaw goes over the top in the second act. He reveals himself to be not just greedy, but a misanthropic tyrant who desires to destroy the lives of everyone around him. The movie has him as the realization of Woody Allen’s fantasy of Alda’s character in “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The actual tower heist is for the most part a disappointment. There are explanations of the building’s highly advanced security system, and how difficult it is to access Shaw’s suite. We are led to believe there will be a clever caper involving a mastermind plan and execution. But the mechanics of the heist are straightforward and lack finesse.
The strongest scene in the movie is when, during the heist, three characters find themselves dangling off the side of the tower. The scene is played for laughs, but if you’re afraid of heights like I am, it’s squirm educing.
Aside from Kovacks and a maid who can crack safes (Gabourey Sidibe of “Precious”), I never understood why any of the characters were necessary to the heist. Eddie Murphy plays Slide, a petty crook recruited by Kovacks for his “skill” at robbery. The fact that Kovacks has to first bail him out of jail doesn’t speak well to that skill. The movie fills up some runtime by having Slide engage the soon-to-be thieves in pointless exercises designed to build robbery skills, but serves no purpose in robbing Shaw. Matthew Broderick is a sympathetic, former Wall Street hotshot who gets involved. We learn he can multiply and divide large sums in his head, a fact that anticipates its usefulness during the heist but never comes in handy.
The filmmakers didn’t intended this, but the thieves are cut from the same clothe as Shaw. Given the right circumstances they prove to be just as greedy as he is. The plan is to secure the lost pension money, but Kovacks and his partners go beyond that, stealing over $45 million and distributing the money purely among themselves. Shaw swindled others out of millions and the tower staff pension was Shaw’s smallest account.
Most of the comedy is owed to Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. Stiller is enough of a comic icon that he can get an audience to smile with just a look. And he can go a certain distance just by being a likeable guy. The previews make it seem like this is a buddy movie with Stiller and Murphy as protagonists. But despite coming up with the story and serving as producer, Murphy has only a supporting role. Nonetheless, whenever Murphy is onscreen he manages to get a few chuckles. The movie is never all that funny, but there are consistent chuckles throughout. As a decidedly disposable comedy, it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Take that as you will.
**1/2 (out of 4)
David Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.