Movies can make us laugh. They can make us cry. Often, the good ones do both. For some strange reason, the best ones call on our better selves to witness. To react. To see the hypocrisy in that which we are called on to believe. To, in short, be shamed by our own desire for an easy fix.
There is much that could have been improved in Ben Stiller’s Tower Heist. To begin with, the stupidity of the plan is unparalleled. What’s more, the odds of these characters ever being successful at anything more complex than standing in line provides a significant drag. Then there’s the problem with Ben Stiller being cast as the hero. He was born to play the victim of heists, not the perpetrator! Still, a kind of grandeur creeps into the narrative. Ordinary schlubs trying to turn the tables on a Ponzi schemer, that sort of thing. These ordinary schlubs use what they are able to learn about financial wheeler-dealer Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) to point the Ponzi at him, so to speak.
There are many, probably too many, twists and turns and most of them are utterly implausible. Still, the movie works in its own weird way. To visualize, try to imagine standing in front of an open window 75 floors up and being asked to reach out and grab a Ferrari. It would be rude to refuse, would it not?
The best thing about Tower Heist is the Robin Hood nature of the narrative. The co-conspirators, if we can call them that, witness a bad person doing bad things and as a group, they decide to do something about it. What they do is a bit flummoxed and clumsy, but I suppose you would have to say that they get the job done. In the process of arguing over how to get the Ferrari out of Shaw’s penthouse, this gang that couldn’t shoot straight (literally!) discovers that the Ferrari is made of solid gold.
They somehow manage to use a window washing platform to lower the car from Shaw’s apartment into an empty apartment below before lowering it to the lobby on top of a freight elevator. As they leave the Tower, Stiller’s character and his cohorts are arrested by the FBI. Miss Iovenko (from the Tower’s housekeeping staff) arrives and informs the FBI agent that she passed her bar exam three days ago and will be acting as Josh’s attorney. She shows the FBI Shaw’s ledger and tells them she will turn it over in exchange for everyone’s freedom. The FBI agrees, provided that Josh serves a minimal 2-year sentence. Josh does his time. Shaw is convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life.
The real twist comes when Josh is released. He and his team retrieve the car from its hiding place in Shaw’s rooftop pool and send various parts of the car to Tower employees to help compensate for their lost pensions.