In 1971, Sidney Lumet gave us the taut crime thriller "The Anderson Tapes with Sean Connery in which he lead a small band of thieves to rob a posh New York apartment building. It was actually one of the best heist movies ever made that came in seriously under the radar.


I mention it because clearly it was in the back of Bent Ratner's mind, especially the ending, when he directed "Tower Heist" with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. But so was "Thief", "Horrible Bosses" and "Goldfinger".


He has taken elements of all those films and added a comical element - and do understand that it is a comical element more than a comedy. With only about 20 minutes of actually laugh time, the rest of the film is a social commentary and thriller.

Ben Stiller is Josh Kovaks, the manager of an exclusive apartment hotel in Manhattan. He runs the building like a well oiled machine with a motley, but fairly capable staff. I say motley because his concierge is the inept Charlie (Casey Affleck) who gives his trademark "duh" character. As charlie, he is an expectant father whose wife is Kovacs sister - nepotism at work.


The most competent person is the soon retiring doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson) who looks forward to not opening doors for other people. But his retirement will be put on hold.


Living in the penthouse apartment is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a Bernie Madoff styled character who runs a very successful fund management company; successful for him that is. When it looks like he is being kidnapped, it turns out he was merely trying to escape the arrest of the FBI lead by Agent Claire (Tea Leoni).


It seems Mr Shaw was being indicted on charges he fleeced and squandered the funds he was suppose to be managing. Moreover, a portion of those funds was the pension fund belonging to the employees of the hotel. Lester takes this especially hard and attemts a suicide which is the wake up call to Josh to try to retrieve the stolen monies.

The FBI is clueless as to where the money might be, but Josh thins it's hidden in a secret wall safe in Shaw's apartment. Not knowing anything about theft himself, he enlist a neighborhood thug to show them the way. Slide's (Eddie Murphy) main qualifications are that he's been arrested a lot.


Joining the action is one of the maids (Gabourey Sidibe), a recently evicted tenant (Matthew Broderick), Charlie, a new hiree (Michael Pena) and Lester.


With the exception of Charlie, they all have some meaningful contribution they can make from either past experience or their position at the hotel. Positions that become compromised when the building president (Judd Hirsch) fires Josh for smashing up Shaw's Ferrari.


That's when the hilarity - approximately 20 minutes of it - begins as the crew gets ready for the job. We are treated to a rapid fire of wit and gags from all directions. Then the film returns to the actual caper.


To no surprise, Sidibe demonstrates her comic chops as the over-sized Jamaican immigrant looking for a husband. Broderick gives us his usual boyish charm as a guy who lost everything including his wife because he too screwed up in the stock markets. Tea Leoni even gets in on the act when she gets drunk and flirts with Josh. Pena relies on his steady support cast humor as a former Burger King employee who is really out of place in such a posh building. It takes a long time for Murphy to get into the comic routine and we only see flashes of it. The same can be said of Stiller who plays his usual straight comedian relying heavily on the wit of the script and not his own chops.


However the film is more of a social commentary about the thousands of people who have lost billions to Ponzi schemes, fund management groups and corporate theft. It was at the 45-minute mark before I had my first laugh and it was at the 1 hour 15 minute mark that I had my last. That's not to say that he movie wasn't enjoyable, it just is less comedy and more editorial.


That may be just as well, especially during this time with Occupy Wall Street and other economic activists events dominate the headlines. And, though Ratner tries to maintain the humor, the caper itself leans more on the thriller side than comical.


"Tower Heist" features a strong cast with notable comical turns but settling more on a socioeconomic commentary that sympathizes with those whose retirement plans have been put on hold due to corporate greed.   -- GEOFF BURTON