'Tower Heist' actually has its eyes on your wallet

The thieves in "Tower Heist" may have a skyscraper-dwelling rich guy as their target, but the movie itself is reaching into your wallet. It's such a crassly commercial action-comedy that you won't be surprised to learn that its towering aspirations only involve box office gross.

What ultimately matters is entertainment value, of course, and on that count the movie is so relentlessly busy that it will hold your attention. Movie stars, tall buildings, piles of money and even the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade will keep your eyes on the screen.

Although the frantic story isn't nearly as funny as it asumes itself to be, it's loud and silly and diverting.

If it aspired to be a more accomplished movie, "Tower Heist" would have, er, built more solidly on its durable premise. The title tower is a swank residential New York skyscraper whose occupants include a wealthy investor, Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), whose frequent claims that he has remained true to his humble roots can't conceal just how smugly entitled he really feels himself to be. This financial wizard is also a crook, making "Tower Heist" a topical 2011 release.

When the building's nice-guy manager, Josh Kovaks (Ben Stiller), naively entrusts his fellow maintenance workers' pension funds with Shaw, the promised investment returns don't materialize. Just the opposite occurs, as Shaw steals the money and then is arrested on other charges.

Josh and his colleagues hatch a plan to rob a safe in Shaw's apartment and thereby make far more than they lost. They expect to realize $20 million from the heist, which sure qualifies as a comfortable retirement account.

Although "Tower Heist" gets some mileage out of the class warfare aspect of this plot, it's sloppy about its procedural aspect. It can be nervously compelling in such a movie to watch how the thieves scope out the situation and then methodically go about putting their plan into action. The movie admittedly has plenty of sneaking around, but there are so many gaps in logic and also in the staging of the action that it's a mess.

Many of these noisy and violent scenes happen inside what's presumably a fully occupied building, but it's as if everything were being played out on a movie studio soundstage.

There's even a splashy scene involving an automobile pushed through a large window and now dangling over a street packed with parade watchers. Nobody looks up and shouts that there's a car overhead. Perhaps it's because the street-level onlookers are mesmerized by the parade balloons and also by a real-life cameo involving comedian Joan Rivers on a float.

Although it's an intensely New York movie in terms of its locations, character types and attitudes, director Brett Ratner treats the city as a photogenic backdrop for a generic comedy that exists in a world of its own. You may not believe much of what you're watching in this New York fantasyland, but at least the breezy pace ensures that the movie lurches ahead.

Josh is joined in his heist scheme by the doorman, Lester (Stephen McKinley Henderson); the elevator operator, Dev'Reaux (Michael Pena); the concierge, Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck); and the housekeeper, Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe). Robbed of their pension funds and then fired when they protest, these building management workers are out for revenge.

Also joining them in the heist scheme is Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a stock trader whose financial troubles are not directly related to Shaw's criminal behavior. Broderick's character serves as a reminder that the economy has been rough on some Wall Street types, too, so the movie extends its web of sympathy to the upper-middle-class. Incidentally, it's impossible not to notice how pudgy and faded-looking Broderick has become. It's either the economy or middle age.

There's also Slide (Eddie Murphy), a streetwise fellow recruited by Josh to give these non-criminals some tips. It's actually a nice casting move to allow Murphy to get away from his recent kiddie movie roles and return to his more profane roots.

Not on their side but kinda sorta rooting for them is an FBI agent, Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), who knows a good Robin Hood story when she investigates it.

The scripted point is that Arthur Shaw is the epitome of slimy evil and everybody else is pretty nice. In a movie that makes no great demands on the viewer, it helps that there is only one clearly defined villain to hiss. Grade: C+

"Tower Heist" (PG-13) is now playing at area theaters.