Movie Maniac

‘Tower’ a reminder of how good heist films can be

I was fully ready to loathe the new caper comedy “Tower Heist.” It didn’t help that it starred Ben Stiller (his stutter schtick in the “Meet the Parents” films is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to me) or Eddie Murphy (I’d rather get a colonoscopy than sit through another of his multi-role “Nutty Professor”-type comedies.)

But “Tower Heist” surprised me. It’s entertaining, fun and – egads! – smart. Well, smart enough to know when it asks you to ditch knowledge and just go along for the ride (a very funny one, too).

And the performances were spot-on: Stiller is nicely restrained, and Murphy is in fine comedic form, recalling his early performances (“Trading Places”).

So “Tower Heist” got me thinking about other heist flicks I like. Here are some:

“Heat” (1995) – Slickly directed by Michael Mann, this film had several of my favorite actors (Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Wes Studi (Native represent!), and followed two men on opposite sides of the law. The story was sprawling and complicated, but it never lost our interest, and we never quite knew what was coming next.

“Inception” (2010) – What they are stealing is very different here, but make no mistake, Leonardo DiCaprio formed a heist team to go into people’s dreams and steal – or in this case, plant – ideas. Christopher Nolan’s dazzling idea and technique were the real stars here, though the top-notch cast added personality to their slimly drawn characters. It was confounding, yet thrilling.

“Ocean’s Eleven” (2011) – Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Rat Pack extravaganza was just as extravagant: big-name stars, high stakes and glitzy surroundings. But Soderbergh put us right in the middle of the action while keeping us guessing, and we marveled at how fun it all was.

“Reservoir Dogs” (1992) – Quentin Tarantino’s tense breakout hit about a jewelry heist gone terribly awry actually didn’t show much of the heist but reveled in its bloody aftermath. When the heist’s remaining crew assemble at a premeditated rendezvous point, they begin to suspect that one of them is an undercover cop. And we begin to suspect this film is a cult classic.

“Point Break” (1991) – Kathryn Bigelow (who went on to be the first female director to win an Oscar, with “The Hurt Locker”) directed this taut action tale of an undercover cop (Keanu Reeves) trying to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers by joining their surfer culture. The film boasted one of Patrick Swayze’s most charismatic performances.

“The Lookout” (2007) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in this sullen film as a once-promising high school athlete who suffers from memory loss after a devastating accident. He eventually gets a job as a janitor at a bank, and is asked to join a heist plan. The robbery here isn’t that exciting, but the characters that inhabit the tale are intriguing and beautifully portrayed by Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels (who plays his blind best friend).