“Die Hard in a building” is how the film has been coyly referred to by some (my choice of title would have been, “Rock Hard“), as we have a tough hero in the titular building having to take down terrorists from succeeding in their avaricious plans. Most comparisons will end with the concept, though, as this vehicle for Dwayne Johnson (The Fate of the Furious, Moana) lacks the taut pacing, suspenseful developments, or witty dialogue that makes its thirty-year-old inspiration a truly great action film.
The skyscraper is known as “The Pearl”, and, at 2/3 of a mile in height, it’s the tallest building in the world, located in the heart of Hong Kong. Like the Biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, when man tries to reach for the heavens, they’ll be brought back down. Johnson plays an ex-military/ex-FBI agent named Will Sawyer, who retired from service after getting severely injured in the line of duty and losing one of his legs (he wears a prosthetic). In the ten years since that fateful day, he’s transformed his skills into a new career as a security consultant, and, even more meaningful, he has gotten married and become a father of two (future hostages). He’s the top choice for taking over the open position working security of The Pearl, which is on the verge of opening to the public, so he travels with his family in tow to check out his potential new assignment as the building’s first tenants.
Things go awry when a group of baddies hatch their plan to set up Will as the culprit in an effort to steal a boat load of cash from the building’s multi-billionaire owner, and to burn the new construction to the ground in the process. It’s up to Will alone to restore his reputation, protect his family from being inevitably held at gunpoint, and to save the burning building from imminent destruction.
Skyscraper is directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who cut his teeth in comedies, including one starring The Rock in Central Intelligence. If you’re a fan of his previous work and expect to see some funny moments as you might find in Dodgeball or We’re the Millers, you’re going to be woefully disappointed, as Skyscraper plays very seriously in execution, with even the requisite one-liners you might be expecting from a Die Hard ripoff almost completely absent from the proceedings.
Playing mostly like a generic thriller from the 1990s that somehow got Dwayne Johnson spliced into it, Skyscraper mostly rides on its two assets: the charisma of its star, and its emphasis on destruction-porn effects. The rest is completely predictable for anyone who has seen two of three movies just like this, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of films in the last three decades that have this same formula, or perhaps older, if you start with 1974’s The Towering Inferno. The plot involves the old cliche MacGuffin of a USB flash drive, and Scandinavian bad guys who seem like they’re on loan from the last twenty thrillers you’ve seen.
Skyscraper plays better in 3D due to the visual effects, where every scene feels like it is meant to give viewers the ultimate vertigo-inducing experience of great heights and potentially perilous falls. Scenes of Will dangling for his life on the edge of a precipice are abundant, as are the scenes where a character must jump from one teetering to another with flames shooting around below or in the background, as if viewing through a full-motion version of a ViewMaster. Along those lines, perhaps viewers just looking for quality eye candy to immerse themselves within might consider it money well spent, but watching this without the gimmick reveals it to be a slick but generic thriller that will only be remembered as just another movie starring The Rock. While Skyscraper might be about the world’s largest erection, the results are disappointingly flaccid.
Qwipster’s rating: D+
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts, Kevin Rankin, Noah Cottrell
Small role: Tzi Ma
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay: Rawson Marshall Thurber