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The new movie Tower Heist, about a group of high rise staff members who plot to steal back their pensions from a unscrupulous Wall Streeter, mixes comedy and action with insightful social commentary, coupled with an empowering Robin Hood spirit.
It jump-starts the tale of newly disenfranchised who would be driven to commit a high-stakes robbery. The writers tapped into the battered U.S. economy, whose financial meltdown occurred amidst charges of corporate mismanagement, record high unemployment and financiers defrauding their clients.
They infused the material with a timeliness that made the premise all the more powerful and gave the ensemble cast much material to use. Outside the top billers, Tower Heist sports an interesting collection of supporting cast.
Michael Peña, who portrays bellhop/elevator operator Dev’Reaux, the newest member of The Tower staff, appreciated this ripped-from-the-headlines aspect of the film. Dev’Reaux’s freewheeling attitude rubs Josh the wrong way but also makes him a go-to guy to be a part of the heist crew.
“I love this story,” Peña states, “between the financial meltdown, unemployment and government bailouts, the little guy finally gets to have his day. To be able to get it done on their own terms with their everyday skills makes it that much sweeter for the crew.
I had family affected by the economic downturn while I was reading the script, so as much as Tower Heist is a big action-comedy, there’s an underlying anticipation to see it all play out.” Ben Stiller elaborates on Peña’s character: “We meet Dev’Reaux, who is brand new at the job and a likeable street guy, but puts his foot in his mouth a lot.
He doesn’t understand the hierarchy of how you’re supposed to deal with the tenants and gets under Josh’s skin, but Josh needs him, so he brings him onto the heist team.” Academy Award nominee Gabourey Sidibe follows up her highly acclaimed dramatic debut in Precious to play the role of Odessa Montero, a feisty Jamaican-born maid who works in The Tower while trying to secure her green card.
As the daughter of a locksmith, she possesses skills that prove to be invaluable to the team when the heist is devised. Though the Harlem-bred Sidibe conferred with a safecracker to refine her technique, she constructed her character by looking a little closer to home. “The thing about Odessa is that she is Jamaican,” she says.
“I am not Jamaican, but some of my friends are so I brought their blunt, quick-witted sass to Odessa.” The actress laughs, “I’ve been teasing them our entire friendship, so it was nice to honor them on camera.” Brett Ratner, the director, loved being able to introduce audiences to a very different side of the young woman who blew filmgoers away in her very first dramatic role.
Still, he admits: “I needed an actress to be able to stand toe-to-toe with Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller, somebody with a strong personality. Gabby is a breath of fresh air. She walks in the room, and everybody just gravitates to her. She’s pathologically positive, happy and smart.
She’s always got something witty to say. She’s constantly cracking a joke or whispering something in your ear to make you laugh.” The project gained further momentum with the casting of legendary actor Judd Hirsch, who rejoins his producer from A Beautiful Mind for this film.
Cast as Mr. Simon, Josh’s boss who fires several of his employees when they destroy Shaw’s car, Hirsch admits that he has a lot of sympathy for Josh, played by Ben Stiller. “I love Ben’s part. You don’t usually see parts like that. They’re usually banal or immune, but Josh is concerned with the lives of others and is always trying to get somebody straightened out.
But he’s the one who takes the fall. He’s trying to get something for everybody in a beneficial way. He’s Mr. Justice, and then has to go and pay the price.” “Judd is one of those talents who has spent the past four decades creating complex, memorable characters,” offers producer Brian Grazer.
“From his unforgettable roles on television shows like Taxi and Dear John to his stunning performances in movies from Ordinary People to A Beautiful Mind, he’s one of the most memorable performers working today. You see the conflict in his character’s eyes as he has to play the heavy and get rid of those who were involved with the vigilante behavior in Shaw’s apartment. We were thrilled to have him.”
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