Dwayne Johnson must save his family from a burning building in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s ‘Die Hard’ wannabe.
Part Towering Inferno, part Die Hard, and part test to see how much Hollywood baloney a physics-literate viewer can take before his or her head explodes, Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Skyscraper is one of the most idiotic action movies to come down the pike in some time. It’s also a lot of fun if you’re willing to go with it, and getting viewers to go with things is one of several fronts on which The Rock routinely earns the money he gets paid.
The performer now known as Dwayne Johnson — but honestly, a flick like this demands The Rock — brings more earnestness than wit to this performance. Though that makes sense when playing a man who must rush into hell to save his family, it (along with Thurber’s subpar script and the absence of a Hans Gruber-grade villain) keeps this film well short of John McTiernan’s enduring Bruce Willis crowd-pleaser, which celebrates its 30th birthday this very month. Nevertheless, multiplexes should welcome it with open arms.
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former special-ops guy who, since a decade-old tragedy that cost him half of one leg, has stayed behind a desk. Now working as a high-level security consultant, he has landed a peach of a gig: He’s vetting all the safety and security systems on the Pearl, a Hong Kong skyscraper that is the world’s tallest, three times the height of the Empire State Building.
The Pearl is a curvy, biomorphic thing, with a 30-story park in its interior and a mysterious sphere cradled up top. The building’s billionaire owner, Zhao (Chin Han) brags that the vast array of high-def monitors inside that sphere makes it the Eighth Wonder of the World, which really only means that he needs to leave his skyscraper more often.
Zhao has an enemy whose crew steals control of all the Pearl’s systems and nearly kills Will while he’s away from the building. Will’s wife (Neve Campbell, playing a military surgeon) and twin kids are still high up in the tower, though, when the bad guys start a massive fire on the 95th floor and shut down all those precious safety systems, locking down the building’s entranceways and exits.
Look: If you think you can keep The Rock out of a flaming skyscraper while his wife and kids are inside, you’re welcome to try. But do yourself a favor and make sure there aren’t any giant construction cranes nearby. In the first of many guffaw-worthy daredevil sequences, Will scales a crane’s exterior (how long would it take to climb a hundred stories?!), uses its hook to smash a hole in an upper floor of the Pearl, and takes a running leap from the crane into that hole.
Only a scholar of schlock would know, but it’s possible that no other film has made such frequent and ridiculous use of the device in which a character falls from something very tall but catches himself at the last possible moment in a completely impossible way. Will is barely inside that hole in the building before he’s finding far-fetched reasons to go back to its exterior. (And as stupid as things get out there, you gotta love the guy’s faith that duct tape will keep him from flying off the 98th-floor ledge.)
Inside the building, Campbell’s Sarah Sawyer isn’t exactly a helpless damsel. But in a script whose action often boils down to knowing the right buttons to press on a control panel, Will’s expertise is going to be necessary at some point. Up in the 220th-floor penthouse, Zhao has locked himself in a titanium-walled safe room, and the men who want him out decide they can get Will to help open the room by taking his kids hostage. Again: Good luck with that. (And to the viewer: Please temporarily disable your brain before the movie reveals where the access panel to the penthouse is located.)
With no real personalities to play against on the villains’ side, the film’s human-on-human (as opposed to human-on-the-laws-of-physics) action is more ordinary than it might have been. But Johnson is nothing if not invested, and it’s gratifying to see him play Unstoppable Dad, even in such a setting. At this point in his career, why is Johnson still having to make mindless films watchable? Why aren’t genuine action auteurs lining up to make movies with this man?
Production companies: Legendary Pictures, Flynn Picture Company, Seven Bucks
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan
Director-Screenwriter: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Producers: Beau Flynn, Dwayne Johnson, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Hiram Garcia
Executive producers: Dany Garcia, Wendy Jacobson, Eric McLeod, Eric Hedayat
Director of photography: Robert Elswit
Production designer: Jim Bissell
Costume designer: Ann Foley
Editors: Mike Sale, Julian Clarke
Composer: Steve Jablonsky
Casting director: Sarah Halley Finn
PG-13, 102 minute