Not unlike the busy-bee staff at the apartment building of its title, Tower Heist makes sure that you, the customer, have not a worry in the world while you're in it. Complex characters and complicated plots are done away with, replaced with story machinery that hums along as smoothly and pleasantly as a luxury car engine. Jokes come at a steady pace, plot twists click in just when your attention might stray, and it all builds to a climax that provides as many thrills as possible while also maintaining your confidence that nothing bad can happen, ever.
Unless by "bad" of course you mean bad movies, which Tower Heist is just innocuous enough to avoid becoming. It's a movie without passion or any of the trick-door complications of the heist genre, just an opportunity to throw some stars, jokes and big visual set pieces into a high-rise building and entertain the masses. Director Brett Ratner is famous for these kinds of movies, and while he does nothing to get in the way of the things that Tower Heist does well, he doesn't enhance them either. There will be funny scenes or exciting scenes, or especially a moment when Eddie Murphy seems awake onscreen for the first time in years, but they all eventually float back into a movie that's a steady stream of mediocrity, adamant in its refusal to stand up and make something of itself.
Even the tower at the center of the movie is unremarkable, called simply "The Tower" and shot at a black monolith building that looms over Columbus Circle with its utter blandness (in real life it is, of course, owned by Donald Trump). The Tower is home to average Wall Street guys like Matthew Broderick's character as well as kingpins like Alan Alda's, living in a penthouse apartment with a rooftop pool, a car that once belonged to Steve McQueen, and all the rich guy entitlement you could ask for. When Alda's character is revealed to be running a Ponzi scheme that frittered away the pensions of the building's blue-collar employees, Stiller's building manager character rounds up a posse-- including Gabourey Sidibe's Jamaican maid, and two dopes played by Casey Affleck and Michael Pena-- to break into Alda's apartment and steal what they assume is a huge trove of cash.
Tea Leoni is an FBI agent bringing Alda's Ponzi schemer to justice who also eventually cottons to the heist plan, and Murphy, all motor-mouth and bravado, is the professional crook brought in to make sure the job gets done right. It doesn't get done right, of course, because this genre demands things to never go as planned, but Tower Heist wastes some potential in never pretending that it will. Their plot isn't particularly complicated to begin with, so when things go bonkers there's no satisfaction in the plot jumping the tracks. And the more absurd things turn, the more it becomes unclear what kind of comedic universe Tower Heist is operating in-- in their quest to mine as many jokes as possible out of this milquetoast premise, Ratner and company constantly break their own comedic rules, so the audience can't build expectations or play along with the story at all.
But the amount of laughs in the movie, ranging from absurd conversations that lead to the phrase "gauntlet of lesbians" to the way Eddie Murphy pronounces "bobby pin," help the labored plot coast by easier, and since Tower Heist is blatantly aiming to be that movie you can take absolutely anyone to see, it succeeds in doing that quite well. But as Pixar and the Ocean's movies and some other truly good popcorn has taught us, there's a way to be everything to everybody and actually be good too. Tower Heist isn't aggressively bad or even offensive, but its utter lack of presence is almost worse.