Movies have a longer gestation period than is sometimes appreciated. It’s very easy, looking at the trailers for Universal’s “Tower Heist,” which opens next week, to assume that the filmmakers wanted to pillory Bernie Madoff. As the official plot synopsis says:
Queens native Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) has managed one of the most luxurious and well-secured residences in New York City for more than a decade. Under his watchful eye, nothing goes undetected. In the swankiest unit atop Josh’s building, Wall Street titan Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is under house arrest after being caught stealing two billion from his investors. The hardest hit among those he defrauded? The tower staffers whose pensions he was entrusted to manage.
With only days before Arthur gets away with the perfect crime, Josh’s crew turns to petty crook Slide (Eddie Murphy) to plan the nearly impossible…to steal what they are sure is hidden in Arthur’s guarded condo. Though amateurs, these rookie thieves know the building better than anyone. Turns out they’ve been casing the place for years, they just didn’t know it.
Sounds like Bernie Madoff to me. But movies go through long periods of development, and “Tower Heist” actually predates the Madoff scandal. Producer Brian Grazer confirms that the original idea for “Tower Heist” goes back a good six years. In a press release distributed by Universal, Grazer says:
“Eddie and I have worked with one another since we filmed ‘Boomerang’ in the early ’90s. In 2005, he pitched an idea to [director] Brett [Ratner] and me to develop a film with a number of comedians playing guys who were down on their luck, the genesis of ‘Tower Heist.’ He wanted to create a movie with characters that were not the cool, slick guys. His idea was that the story would follow a group of disgruntled employees in a building like the Trump Tower who seize their chance and plan a robbery. Naturally, everything that could possibly go wrong with their ill-conceived plans did.”
During the six years of development of course, current events made the premise of “Tower Heist” more compelling. Grazer also notes:
“[W]ho could have known that, in this period of time, the global financial markets would teeter on the verge of collapse and the villain in our story would pale in comparison to some very real ones on Wall Street? Truth remains stranger than fiction.”
In a day and age when directors get attached and unattached to projects rapidly, it’s notable that Ratner stayed on board from beginning to end. The story was eventually written by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven”). The final screenplay was written by Griffin and Jeff Nathanson (“Catch Me if You Can”). In addition to Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Alan Alda, the cast ultimately included Casey Affleck (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Gone Baby Gone”), Matthew Broderick, Stephen McKinley Henderson (“Law & Order”), Judd Hirsch, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña (“World Trade Center,” “Battle: Los Angeles,” “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “30 Minutes or Less”) and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire”).
For many of the actors, the film gave longtime friends an opportunity to work together once again. Ben Stiller, Alan Alda and Téa Leoni reunited for the first time since co-starring in David O’Russell’s 1996 indie “Flirting With Disaster.” Leoni had previously collaborated with Ratner on “The Family Man,” and Stiller directed Matthew Broderick in 1996’s dark comedy “The Cable Guy.” As well, a number of day players had worked on many a Ratner film over the years.
Much of the filming was done in and around luxury properties owned by Donald Trump, who cooperated with the filmmakers. Artwork by Pablo Picasso, Francesco Clemente, Richard Prince, Francis Bacon, Ed Ruscha, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Alberto Giacometti and Andy Warhol, fill Shaw’s penthouse set. Those, however, are reproductions. The Shaw character also boasts a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso once owned by Steve McQueen. While McQueen did own one (and only 350 of that model were ever manufactured), the car in the movie is also a reproduction. The current owner of McQueen’s used Ferrari paid $10 million for it.
“Tower Heist” opens in Capital District theatres November 4th.