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A Rocky Building High 

Dwayne Johnson
Dwayne Johnson
Universal Pictures
 102 Minutes
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell  

After watching the latest Dwayne Johnson action film extravaganza, Skyscraper, there can be no question why the actor formerly known simply as The Rock is the biggest action star in the world. Simply put, Skyscraper is a highly generic, by-the-numbers near-ripoff of Die Hard and an earlier action hallmark, The Towering Inferno, that, without the presence of Johnson and a significant computer effects budget, would have felt exactly like a mediocre Sy Fy network movie of the week. Add the Rock into the mix and the film is, at the least, watchable for undemanding viewers.


As were its aforementioned inspirations, much of Skyscraper is set in a very, very, very tall building, in this case, the Pearl, a Hong Kong edifice named after a large, mysterious sphere that sits perched at its apex, some 220 stories up. The Pearl is the brainchild of local billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who is about ready to open the top 100 stories or so for occupancy as luxury high-rise apartments, and has hired former FBI agent Will Sawyer (Johnson) as a security consultant to make sure that no harm can befall the tower. Sawyer got the job thanks to an old FBI buddy Ben (Pablo Schreiber), and has already moved his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and kids into one of those apartments.


No sooner does Will conclude his preliminary assessment with a determination that the building is, indeed, secure from any possible harm than that harm comes a knocking in the form of a group of assorted Eurotrash crooks under the leadership of Kores Botha (Roland Moller). It turns out that Zhao has stashed away in his impregnable penthouse safe a set of computer files (aka the McGuffin) that Botha wants to get his hands on. But, rather than merely try to force Zhao to open the safe (as Alan Rickman attempted in Die Hard) Botha launches one of those insanely complex and completely idiotic schemes that villains in films like this always concoct. The short version of the scheme is that the villains will start a fire on the same floor where Will’s wife and children are, turn off all the fire prevention devices in the building, and direct the fire up to the penthouse where, presumably, Zhao will turn over the McGuffin files he has.


Will discovers that something is amiss when Ben tries to kill him, so he goes to the Pearl to try to stop the thieves, merely to discover that the only way to get above the fire is by means of a very tall crane adjacent to the Pearl, which Will then maneuvers close enough to the building that he can successfully jump from the crane to an upper building floor. That’s not the only time Will has to go outside the building to finally get to the penthouse either, as the clip below demonstrates. And, by the time Will does reach his lofty destination, Botha has captured Will’s daughter and is holding her hostage to ensure Will’s cooperation.


Unlike its two aforementioned inspirations, which are both over two hours long, Skyscraper clocks in at a fast paced 102 minutes, including a prologue that explains how Will lost his leg initially. So, non-demanding audiences will be able to gloss over the myriad of plot improbabilities and appreciate the special effects, most of which involve Will dangling precariously more than 100 stories above the ground. Along these lines, his only help consists of supplies of duct tape when he needs it (the source of one of the few jokes in the movie) and his prosthetic leg. This leg most closely resembles the gadgets that Q designed in movie after movie for James Bond, e.g., weird contraptions equipped with lots of seemingly superfluous features that inevitably figured into the story line. Similarly, Will is able to take off and put on his prosthetic in a flash and have it come to his rescue time and time again.


The special effects in Skyscraper are generally good, but simply not all that convincing. I never got the feel that Dwayne Johnson might actually be hundreds of feet in the air, the way that John McTiernan and Bruce Willis were able to sell a similarly harrowing but far more suspenseful stunt in Die Hard. Part of the blame for this may lie with Skyscraper’s writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose background is more in comedy, such as his pairing of Johnson with Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence. One thing that Skyscraper is lacking is humor, with the naturally charismatic Johnson being limited to a handful of lame, scripted jokes. And, while he does have a good rapport with Neve Campbell and the two actors playing his children (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell), Johnson obviously little time for parental or spousal bonding when there’s a 220-story building to save.


To Johnson’s credit, he does make Will Sawyer as entertaining as possible, no small feat considering that Skyscraper boasts a screenplay that would probably not have passed muster as an ABC Movie of the Week back in the 1970’s. There is a “surprise” villain, who is only a surprise to viewers who fail to pick up on the dozen or so close-ups of him looking highly suspicious before the reveal, and the lead villain, Roland Moller, would probably be cast as the number three or four henchman in a better movie. He too gives himself away when trying to act innocent in his first meeting with Sarah. In fact, the only supporting character besides Neve Campbell who is the slightest bit interesting (thanks to the script completely wasting Pablo Schreiber) is Hannah Quinlivan as the femme fatale, martial arts top henchman, or, in this case, henchperson.


Director Thurber probably deserves some credit in Skyscraper for the way in which he stages scenes that are pretty much cheap knockoffs of those in Die Hard (the way a villain falls to his demise the same way Hans Gruber did) and The Towering Inferno (releasing a glass walled elevator to descend through floors on fire), not to mention his most audacious theft, a technologically updated version of Orson Welles’s hall of mirrors sequence in Lady from Shanghai. Whether that credit is positive or not is debatable. What’s not debatable is the fact that Dwayne Johnson remains a force of nature, even in a slight vehicle like Skyscraper where he has to do all the work. The final product is a tribute to his charisma and a passable way to spend a few hours, but it fails to reach even modest heights.

In this clip, Dwayne Johnson has one of his many narrow escapes from death in Skyscraper.

Read other reviews of Skyscraper: 

Skyscraper (2018) on IMDb