Explosively Absurd Skyscraper a Tower of Farcical Nonsense
After a horrific tragedy takes a part of one of his legs below the knee, former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is now a freelance security specialist who specializes in doing risk and safety assessments for skyscrapers. As great as he is at his job, nevertheless Will is still surprised when his former FBI teammate Ben (Pablo Schreiber) gets him a job to analyze The Pearl, a 225-story technological marvel of futuristic engineering overlooking Hong Kong dreamt up by visionary industrialist Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). After months of work, he’s now come to China to deliver his final report, his immediate family including wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), a brilliant naval surgeon who saved his life ten years prior, and two twin children Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) joining him on the trip.
What Will doesn’t know is that it’s all a trick. International thug Kores Botha (Roland Møller), an enforcer for a number of secretive criminal syndicates, wants something that Zhao has hidden inside The Pearl, and he’ll do anything to get it. This includes setting the building ablaze while Sarah, Georgia and Henry are all still inside while Will is offsite checking security protocols. With all of the fire prevention features inexplicably turned off it’s only a matter of time before the building reaches the point of no return. But with his family caught in the middle of this maelstrom Will is suitably determined to do whatever it takes to get them all out alive, and if that means tapping back into the lethal skills that made him one of the FBI’s best that he was hoping to never utilize again in order to take down Botha than that is exactly what it is he’s going to do.
If nothing else, the new Towering Inferno meets Die Hard meets Taken meets The Fugitive bit of big budget loopy Hollywood craziness Skyscraper is a terrific commercial for Duct Tape. Goodness gracious but does Will go through tons of the stuff, using it for everything from bandaging wounds to helping his biomechanical leg stay secure. Heck, at one point he even gets to utilize the stuff like he was making low-rent homemade climbing gloves much like the space age high-tech ones Tom Cruise had to climb the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. There’s so much Duct Tape in this movie it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out they were one of the primary financiers for the project, and I’m almost shocked the company didn’t get some sort of on-screen presenting credit like Hasbro does for the Transformers and G.I. Joe adventures.
As for the rest of the thriller, it’s as absolutely absurd as that synopsis likely made things sound. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence) latest is a big piece of slickly produced high-concept hooey that gets more ludicrous and less coherent as it moves along. The film is a giant epic overflowing in melodramatic action pyrotechnics that’s even stupider and far more silly than I ever could have imagined it was going to be, a large part of me kind of thinking this was the whole idea right from the start.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Heck, for the first half or so I was totally onboard with just how ridiculous all of the shenanigans involving Will’s quest to save his family trapped inside The Pearl was turning out to be. Even though I knew immediately who the secret bad guys were, there’s something kind of magical in watching Johnson scale a massive construction crane so he can make a physics-defying leap 100-stories above the ground in order to get back into the burning skyscraper. It’s the kind of vertigo-inducing theatrics gigantic screen multiplexes were built for, and Thurber stages many of the film’s massive fiery set pieces with suitably thrilling aplomb.
But at a certain point the escalating absurdity just weighs things down to the point the fun begins to wane. Unlike even pale Die Hard rip-offs like Sudden Death with Powers Boothe or Under Siege with Tommy Lee Jones, let alone superior ones like Speed with Dennis Hopper, the villains populating this story are either shockingly underutilized or frustratingly subpar. Møller, so terrific in A Hijacking and Land of Mine, is spectacularly unmemorable as Botha, and for large swaths of the story I almost forgot he was even a part of the action. As for the other various members of his team, they’re just cannon fodder standing around to be taken out by Will in a variety of creative ways, none of them having a singular signature moment worth talking about. Only young Taiwanese star Hannah Quinlivan makes an impression portraying Botha’s deadliest assassin Xia, but as she’s purposefully kept on the sidelines for the majority of the narrative even her badass killer fails to make a lasting impact.
Look, Johnson could do the type of things asked of him here in his sleep, and the fact he throws himself into it all with such determined conviction even if the character of Will Sawyer isn’t all that far removed from the likes of Luke Hobbs (the Fast and the Furious franchise), Davis Okoye (Rampage), Beck (The Rundown) or so many other action heroes the actor has portrayed over the years is honestly kind of commendable. More importantly, he has lovely chemistry with Campbell, the two sharing a number of authentically intimate emotional beats that couldn’t help but make me smile. As for the one-time Scream superstar, other than resurrecting Sidney Prescott in 2011’s excellent Scream 4 she’s purposefully been pretty picky as far as big screen appearances have been concerned, choosing instead to tackle meaty roles on television in programs like “House of Cards” and “Welcome to Sweden.” As such it’s nice to see Campbell back at it in a movie like this, and I appreciate that Thurber’s script gives her far more to do than just be a stereotypical damsel in distress.
None of which matters because by the time things reached their conclusion I just didn’t care about anything that was going on anymore. Thurber either needed to go for broke and create the most insane, over-the-top spectacle he could dream up or instead play things with far more intelligence and not treat the audience as if they only had half-a-brain and the attention span of a newt. At a certain point the increasing inanity of the situations Will and his family must find a way to overcome become too incredulous to do anything but unintentionally laugh at, all of which makes Skyscraper a towering farcical misfire built upon a foundation of misbegotten nonsense.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)