It’s THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) meets DIE HARD (1988)!
SKYSCRAPER (2018), the latest action adventure movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, features Johnson as a man who takes it upon himself to rescue his family from a burning skyscraper, all the while fending off a group of militant baddies.
Which sounds like it might be a lot of fun in a mindless sort of way, but sadly at the end of the day it really isn’t. And that’s because the more this one goes on, the more superficial and unbelievable it becomes.
SKYSCRAPER actually has a jarring pre-credit sequence, as an F.B.I. Hostage Rescue team led by Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) moves in to quell a volatile hostage situation, but things go badly, there is an explosion, and when Will awakes he’s lost part of his leg, and his whole outlook on life has changed.
The story picks up years later where Will now works as a security consultant. He and his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children are in Hong Kong as Will is on a job assessing the newest and tallest skyscraper in the world, three times as tall as the Empire State Building.
What Will doesn’t know is that a ruthless mobster named Kores Botha (Rolland Moller) is seeking revenge against the building’s owner Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and plans to burn the building down and frame Will in the process. Even worse, Sarah and the children find themselves trapped inside the inferno. Yep, you know you’re having a bad day when you’re framed for arson and your family is trapped inside the building you’re blamed for burning!
What’s a guy to do? Well, if you’re Dwayne Johnson, you take matters into your own hands and scale the outside of the building like Spiderman and put yourself in position to both put out the fire and beat back those bad guys, not to mention saving your wife and kids in the process. To give the story some credit, things don’t go as planned, and Will’s wife Sarah actually has a large part in saving the day as well, and while I liked this, there’s still no getting around that taken as a whole the story is flat-out ludicrous.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber wrote the screenplay which is pretty much just an excuse to showcase a fiery skyscraper and have folks perform lots of incredible stunts. I never really bought into any of these characters or the situations they were in. It possesses as much credence as an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.
I somewhat expected this going in. I mean, based on the trailers, I wasn’t expecting a hard-hitting thriller. But a little believability goes a long way. Sadly, that’s a concept that is completely missing from this flick.
I generally like Dwayne Johnson, and so I certainly wasn’t dreading seeing this one. He has a likable screen persona, and he also has an Arnold Schwarzenegger thing going where the films he’s in are that much better because he’s in them. Of course, in general, Schwarzenegger used to be helped by some pretty solid scripts. That’s not the case here with SKYSCRAPER.
That being said, Johnson’s presence helps here up to a point. I enjoyed watching him early on, but as the film goes on and the premise wears thin, in that the story grows less believable and the stunts do as well, he becomes less of a factor. And like I said, the script doesn’t help him. He gets few if any memorable lines or one-liners. Arnold would not approve.
His character Will also has a prosthetic leg, and I thought this might be featured more in the story, but it really isn’t. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. I mean, it’s not like his character is marketed as someone who shouldn’t be effective because of his leg, and he has to overcompensate for it. It’s barely mentioned at all. But as such, I did wonder what its purpose was in the story. It doesn’t seem to have one.
Neve Campbell delivers the best performance in the film as Will’s wife, Sarah. She’s a natural as the dutiful loving wife, and the best part is she also gets to show off her tough girl chops as Sarah does quite a bit here in the rescue/battle bad guys department. It’s not the case at all where she needs Will to rescue her. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The rest of the cast is just okay. Roland Moller is rather dull as villain Kores Botha. He never rises above the standard movie villain. And he’s not really in the film until its second half and so for most of the movie he doesn’t have an impact.
Chin Han is just as dull Zhao Long Ji, the man who designed, built, and owns the building. Byron Mann plays Inspector Wu, a police officer monitoring the situation outside the building, but that’s about all he does. He’s one of the least effective law enforcement officers I’ve seen in a movie in a while.
Speaking of which, one of the plot points is that the building is burning out of control because the skyscraper’s anti-fire system has been disabled. I guess the folks in this movie have never heard of a fire department. We never see any fire fighters or rescuers attempting to fight the fire or save the people inside. They’re on the ground surrounding the building, but just what they’re doing there I guess is the story for another movie since in this flick we don’t see them doing much of anything.
And rounding out the dull character list is Hannah Quinlivan as a beautiful assassin named Xia. She looks good but like the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t do all that much.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber does an okay job. Strangely, the fire scenes are some of the weakest in the movie. There’s so much fire everywhere it’s often difficult to see what’s going on. And none of it looks terribly realistic.
Thurber struggles with the action scenes as well. The fight scenes aren’t memorable, other than one early on between Will and his buddy who has betrayed him. That was a good sequence, but the rest fall flat. As do the rescue scenes, mostly because the outcome is never in doubt. I mean, do you really expect anything but a happy ending for Dwayne Johnson’s character and his family?
I enjoyed the first half of SKYSCRAPER. Dwayne Johnson was fun to watch and for a while carried this movie. Neve Campbell also added a lot. But as the film went on, it became a series of dull meaningless action and rescue scenes that never really caught on or became something more.
Yup, this one simply failed to ignite.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.