‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new movie Skyscraper actually scrapes the bottom of the barrel. Watching it, I got the feeling that I had seen this before… and I had. It steals liberally from The Towering Inferno and Die Hard. There is nothing original about it, and what little plot it has quickly signals its intent. The biggest star, after Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is a building… one that doesn’t really exist.
You know right from the beginning that there will be trouble. Will Sawyer (Johnson) affirms that “this is the safest building in the world.” It is more than 200 floors high. Why that is necessary is unclear: you can die falling from a five-story building, but movie companies like superlatives. Although shot in Vancouver, we are supposed to be in Hong Kong.
The film begins when Johnson’s character, a former FBI agent who lost the lower part of his left leg in action years before, visits the big building in Hong Kong along with his U.S. Navy surgeon wife (Neve Campbell) and two adorable kids. Strangely, even though the building has already been built, he is supposed to consult on its safety. Only a handful of people even live there, but the developer, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) has taken residency in the penthouse, a cute gimmick to guarantee that any action will take place thousands of feet up. Of course, Sawyer’s family will stay right at the top… that is supposed to create suspense.
Pierce (Noah Taylor) is a creepy underwriter, so clearly a nasty bad guy, so you just know that he’s going to cause trouble. In real life, of course, an underwriter wants things as absolutely safe as possible. Here, for no particularly good reason, he wants to destroy the whole building. Forget the fact that most safety codes require non-flammable materials for high stories, particularly since 9/11.
So Sawyer, who is missing part of a leg, is clearly no longer young (his beard is graying), and who gets wounded in early action, has to rescue his family from the bad guys as the building burns around them thousands of feet in the air. But this is Dwayne Johnson. Despite his years and injuries, he is able to leap from tall buildings. The most spectacular stunt has his somewhat-disabled character making a leap thousands of feet in the air to another building located at a distance far enough away to qualify for an Olympic medal, that also just happens to have a place to hang on to.
While all of this is going on, his wife leads the kids away from the flames, doing some heroic feats, even more remarkable since she is wearing high heels. The kids look appropriately scared as they do some great balancing, only briefly held back by their fright. You know in advance this will happen because Johnson early on told his son that you’re only as brave as you are scared. The only thing that scared me was that if the whole family survived, it could lead to a (shudder) sequel.
Johnson plays Johnson, which by and large is a good thing. He has a far larger than life on-screen persona, a John Wayne for the 21st century. And since he’s the hero, he is allowed to do more than human things.
Taylor went overboard in his portrayal of the bad guy. He was almost a cartoon, which in a film like this, might almost fit. Han was appropriately charming where necessary. The best performer was Campbell. She seems the most realistic of all the performers. Her actions (aside from the high-fashion shoes) seemed more possible than anything else. And the kids were OK.
We all tend to suspend reality a bit in these movies. We know that Sawyer and his family will survive, and the bad guys will get what they deserve. It comes down to a matter of style, and this movie just did not have much. It felt like the writers grabbed a handful of scripts of other similar films and tossed them in the air to blend them.
If you are an ardent fan of Johnson, you might feel that the cost of a ticket is worth it. For a movie like this, I feel I am earning my meager paycheck by going and reporting so you don’t have to.
Skip this one. See it on HBO, On Demand, etc.