Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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Dwayne Johnson helps 'Skyscraper' rise above its tired premise

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    This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dwayne Johnson in a scene from "Skyscraper."


  • Film-Review-Skyscraper-1

    This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dwayne Johnson in a scene from "Skyscraper."


  • Film-Review-Skyscraper-3

    This image released by Universal Pictures shows Hannah Quinlivan in a scene from "Skyscraper."


  • Film-Review-Skyscraper-4

    This image released by Universal Pictures shows Neve Campbell in a scene from "Skyscraper."


  • Film-Review-Skyscraper-5

    This image released by Universal Pictures shows Neve Campbell, left, and Dwayne Johnson in a scene from "Skyscraper."



Skyscraper answers that vexing question of what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object formerly known as the Rock. The Rock wins. Every time.

That's the point of Dwayne Johnson, action-film star. No one pays to watch the charismatic and heroic human wall collapse, even if logic and physics suggest otherwise — as they often do in Skyscraper.

And where's the fun in that, anyway?


Directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber. A Universal Pictures release playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, Bowling Green, Mall of Monroe, and Sundance Kid Drive-in. Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. Running time: 102 minutes.

Critic's rating: ★★★

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, and Pablo Schreiber.

In Skyscraper, Johnson plays security expert Will Sawyer, who is hired by Hong Kong billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) to ensure his newly constructed mega building, the tallest in the world, is safe. After Sawyer essentially fails that task, he must then rescue his family trapped nearly 100 stories high inside the towering edifice by an inferno.

Watching, often helplessly from below, are the Hong Kong police. Inspector Wu (Byron Mann) and Sergeant Han (Elfina Luk) aren't sure what to think about Sawyer — is he the hero or the culprit?

The raging fire is actually the handiwork of mysterious and mostly nameless villains. Why they started the fire doesn't really matter — it certainly didn't to Skyscraper writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (2004's Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, 2016's Central Intelligence), who concocts the barest of motivations for the group's leader, Kores Botha (Roland Møller): revenge against Ji, who has the goods on his criminal operation.

The bad guys are also the barest of minimums. It's the bad girl, a deadly assassin named Xia (Hannah Quinlivan), with a bi-level haircut and perfect aim, who is the only memorable antagonist.

WATCH: Official trailer to ‘Skyscraper’

Thurber doesn't mess with the Die Hard action-drama formula much. Really, he clones it, and then changes the names and location (from Los Angeles to Hong Kong) with a few minor tweaks — none for the better.

Likewise, he doesn't put much effort into audience misdirection with his script. What the characters say or do is likely to have implications at some point in the film.

Sawyer's wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), is a former combat medic, so her skills and training come in handy when she and her family are in peril. Their young son, Henry (Noah Cottrell), is asthmatic, so his health becomes a problem. Their young daughter, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) more or less serves as a prop.

It’s the same for Sawyer's artificial metal leg: a prop that at first defines the character, a former FBI agent whose leg was blown off during a failed hostage rescue, and later saves him. And, yes, that failed hostage rescue will also come back to haunt him. In these movies, the past is always part of the present.

It’s Johnson who defines Skyscraper and elevates this Die Hard-wannabe into a passable and forgettable summer entry. (Die Hard, by the way, celebrates its 30th birthday on Sunday.) Sawyer doesn't have any memorable lines, ala John McTiernan (Bruce Willis) and his classic "Yippee-ki-yay ... ," but his true foil isn't a person anyway, rather it’s Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong). Once the skyscraper is on fire, everything goes wrong for Sawyer as he makes his way up the building to his family.

Thurber throws as many obstacles as he can at Sawyer along the way. Having the hero hanging on to something — a ledge, a rope, an artificial leg — with the lit-up Hong Kong streets below him, is one the film's favorite predicament. Yes, it's all preposterous, but Johnson as least makes it enjoyable.

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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