Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Movie Review: Skyscraper

Skyscraper ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Written by: Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Will Sawyer), Neve Campbell (Sarah Sawyer), Pablo Schreiber (Ben), Noah Taylor (Mr. Pierce), McKenna Roberts (Georgia), Noah Cottrell (Henry), Kevin Rankin (Ray), Roland Møller (Kores Botha), Byron Mann (Inspector Wu), Hannah Quinlivan (Xia), Tzi Ma (Fire Chief Sheng), Chin Han (Zhao Ming Zhi), Adrian Holmes (Ajani Okeke), Elfina Luk (Sergeant Han).
I’m starting to think that we’re really not doing right by Dwayne Johnson. He is one of the biggest action stars in the world right now, but the vehicles he gets are very much like Skyscraper – generic and forgettable, fun while they last, and then forgotten on the drive home. Just a few months there was Rampage – which had a giant gorilla fight a giant crocodile AND a giant wolf, and we’ve already forgotten that one. We’ll forget Skyscraper even quicker. It’s not that the movies are bad – it’s just that they’re good enough – or ridiculous enough – to be truly memorable.
The story of Skyscraper involves Johnson’s Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent, missing one leg below the knee (we see how he lost the leg in the opening scene, in order to give the character a traumatic backstory, but also to provide some action before 30 minutes of exposition). Now, he runs his own private security firm, and he’s been hired to verify the security of the new tallest building in the world – The Pearl, located in Hong Kong, which as Sawyer calls it is essentially a vertical city. He needs to give his okay before the insurance policy can be finalized (pretty sure that would be taken care of before they spent years and billions of dollars building the thing, but I digress). There is a silly McGuffin of course – a tablet – that terrorists eventually steal from Sawyer that allows them to control the security system of the building – which they promptly set on fire in an effort to get something from the billionaire owner of The Pearl Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Sawyer doesn’t much care about that – he cares that his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell) and his twins – George (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) are trapped inside the burning building – which he now has to get into and save the day.
The movie is basically The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard, except not quite as good as either (although mercilessly, the film is about an hour shorter than the hugely long Towering Inferno). Johnson is basically doing what he does in every film – play a normal everyman – except with hulking muscles. As always, he is charming and funny and relatable – the stuff that all great action movie heroes do, he does it just as well. The best parts of the movie are, of course, the action set pieces as Johnson has to do ridiculous things to get inside the building (climb a hundred story crane for instance) and then smash through, or dangle out of various windows. The terrorists – led by Kores Botha (Roland Moller) are merciless – never hesitating to shoot dozens of people, unless of course it’s Johnson’s family, in which case they never quite get around to it.
Skyscraper is a huge, expensive B-movie – the type of thing designed to make money, but also be rather forgettable. It’s obviously targeting the large Chinese market in addition to the American one – the Hong Kong setting, the various Chinese stars in significant roles, are the signs that the movie is about synergy and cross promotion as much as anything else. That doesn’t mean it cannot also be good – but when the film is kind of as dull as Skyscraper is – at least when not involved in the action scenes – it stands out.
I did appreciate one other thing about the film – other than Johnson, who can make this sort of thing passable entertainment – or at least watchable – and that’s that they don’t make Never Campbell’s Sarah a damsel in distress, constantly waiting for her man to save her. She doesn’t get to kick quite as much ass as Johnson does – but she holds her own, and is smart and resourceful as well. It’s a small, but noticeable thing.
Overall though Skyscraper is more forgettable than anything else. I keep thinking that Johnson will find the right project – or perhaps the right director – that will make better use of him. He needs to find the James Cameron to his Arnold Schwarzenegger – because if he doesn’t, we’ll keep getting disposable and forgettable films like this.

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