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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Skyscraper

Skyscraper is Dwayne Johnson's third starring role in less than a year after December's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and Rampage in April.  This probably puts him comfortably in the position as one of the hardest working men in Hollywood.  However, after watching it, I can't help but feel he might need a break soon.  He still has charisma and star power to burn here, but the projects he picks are not up to his talents.  I'd hate to see him become a victim of overexposure.

As an action thriller, Skyscraper feels recycled from top to bottom.  It's a throwback to those countless Die Hard rip offs that were a dime a dozen back in the 90s, and usually featured Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal in the lead role.  The special effects and stunt work have been updated to the current standards, but the script can't be bothered to give us anything we haven't seen before.  The people who inhabit the movie are character types that have been plugged into the screenplay by writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence), only because they're the kind of stock types who usually show up in these movies.  There's the hero's best friend who turns out to be a traitor, the smarmy business associate who speaks with a snooty British accent (he's a traitor too), the stoic wealthy man who refuses to give into the terrorists' demands, the icy cold female assassin who kills without a single thought through most of the movie, then acts really stupid in her final scene so she can be defeated, and the hero's little girl who acts as a hostage through most of the movie, and screams "Daddy!" a lot to the point that you wish she would just be shipped off to a good day care for the rest of the movie.

The action is set in a glistening high rise in Hong Kong called The Pearl, which is the brainchild of an eccentric billionaire named Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), and is the tallest building in the world, three times the size of the Empire State Building we are told early on.  Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, who was an FBI agent 10 years ago, until a hostage negotiation went wrong, and he wound up losing part of his left leg in a bomb blast.  We witness this event in an opening flashback, and it's the first of many instances where the movie has been cleverly edited to hide multiple casualties in order to obtain a PG-13 rating.  It gets a bit silly after a while, especially when we see armed men open fire on a room full of innocent people at one point, and despite the numerous innocent lives lost, the movie refuses to acknowledge it.  Since that day 10 years ago, Will has never touched a gun, and now lives in the Pearl building as a security consultant.  He also has a wife named Sarah (Neve Campbell), who was the nurse who treated his injuries back then, and two young twin children (McKenna Grace and Noah Cottrell).

There's a lot of clunky exposition early on as we learn about The Pearl, which is basically a high-tech city enclosed in a massive structure with all the latest security precautions.  Naturally, these precautions do not stop the terrorists from getting in, taking control of the building's advanced features, and using highly flammable chemicals to set one of the floors of the building on fire.  Led by the deadly Kores Botha (Roland Moller), the bad guys want a small device that Zhao Long Ji holds, which naturally holds some incriminating information.  Does the plot matter?  Not one little bit.  Thurber wastes no time in kicking the action up to high gear, and giving us a lot of thrilling escapes and shootouts.  The movie certainly looks good, and there are some impressive stunts on display.  It also gets some some interesting mileage out of the fact that Johnson's character has a prosthetic leg, and how he uses it in some situations.

But outside of these fleeting positives, Skyscraper feels like a movie from over 20 years ago.  The movies back then at least had the sense to be R-rated, and not hide the carnage from us.  We're supposed to be taken in by the thrills, and watching this somewhat "every man" outwit the villains and make up his plan to climb the building and reach his family as he goes along.  In this aspect, the movie does owe an obvious debt to the original Die Hard.  But that movie had a lot more tension and thrills, and the villains were more interesting.  This movie is never terrible exactly, it just feels assembled and overly familiar.  A movie like this can overcome these problems by adding in some unique action scenes or maybe likable characters, but like I said above, nobody is allowed to develop beyond their basic character traits.

I'm personally all for Dwayne Johnson continuing to make movies.  He's always enjoyable to watch, and he's one of the more personable action stars we have out there.  I just don't see the sense in plugging him into a role that relies so little on his charisma, and has him playing a character type we've seen many times before.  Skyscraper never lets him truly create a character behind the stunts, and that is its biggest flaw.

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