Why not? I’ll watch a one-legged Dwayne Johnson dangle off of a burning building with Neve Campbell for 102 minutes. Sure, there’s more to Skyscraper than that, but not much. And that’s all that matters in what’s a serviceable, at times goofily over-the-top entertaining, at times dreadful and dreary Die-Hard-meets-Towering-Inferno riff. And I’m fairly certain the entire film was bankrolled by the Chinese duct tape industry. Seriously, the silver-backed tape has a much more significant presence than it has any right to.
The Rock plays Will Sawyer. He’s former FBI tactical response guy now working private security. He gets the chance of a lifetime when he’s called in to do the final safety inspection on a massive, futuristic new skyscraper in Hong Kong called the Pearl. It has everything, turbines, a park in the middle, and a high-tech Enter the Dragon room for some reason. Things don’t go as planned, there’s a vaguely European villain (Roland Moller), a billionaire with secrets of his own (Chin Han), an old pal with dubious motives (Pablo Schreiber), and eventually Will’s wife, Sarah (Campbell), and precocious twins find themselves trapped in what looks kind of like a fire penis and he has to save them.
Why is any of this happening? Who cares? There are, in fact, plot points, but they’re generic at best, muddled at worst. Outside of Will, motivations are questionable and don’t actually matter. Skyscraper plays out like a series of events someone told writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (the man behind Dodgeball) he couldn’t or shouldn’t include, but he did anyway, just to show the doubters. And almost all of his ideas involve duct tape for some reason I can’t quite discern.
Filmed by frequent Paul Thomas Anderson cinematographer Robert Elswit, Skyscraper looks nice, full of sweeping shots of Hong Kong. The effects work is solid, even if it often rings empty and pointless—there’s a great deal of technological posturing that often feels like characters just saying big words to sound smart and communicate the fact they know what they’re talking about. And flames, lots of flames.
The first half drags a bit. It’s fine, establishing everything that’s going on, but by and large, it’s boilerplate disaster movie fare. Will’s a good dude who loves his family. This is a big opportunity. There’s a massive project no one thinks can possibly fail. Not everyone is on the up and up. Once the film sweeps all that to the side and lets loose, things take a positive upswing. It becomes the movie it really wants to be. There’s never a whit of tension, even when The Rock clings to the side of a burning 200 story building, but it’s so patently ridiculous it’s damn fun for stretches. It delivers decent, consequence-free action, though the fight scenes leave something to be desired—staging hand-to-hand combat is not Thurber’s strong suit.
I do have to give Thurber and Johnson credit for at least trying to do something different. This isn’t Hobbs from the Fast and Furious movies. Will isn’t set up as a faultless, invulnerable superhero caricature action star. They take pains to make him an everyman—at least as much of an everyman as a walking slab of human muscle can be. Johnson barely does any of his typical Rock schtick, and when he does insert a trademark quip or one-liner, they’re forced and don’t flow. For the most part, he’s just a dude who gets beat up a lot and kind of sucks at all of his jobs. In the first scene, he makes a bad decision that kills people and costs him his leg—though it does lead to him meeting Sarah—and he basically flubs the job interview of his life. It’s refreshingly against type for Johnson, and though it’s not much of a stretch, at least it’s an attempt.
Also, Skyscraper wins points for including Neve Campbell. First off, big ups just for putting Neve Campbell in a movie at all. She’s a woefully underutilized commodity in this day and age. Second, the script actually gives her stuff to do. From a grand narrative perspective, Sarah and the kids aren’t much more than damsel-in-distress motivation for Will. But on a scene-to-scene basis, she’s tough, smart, and capable, and more substantial than an average doting spouse. A military surgeon, she offers insight, generally does more than scream and get kidnapped by villains, and even stabs a dude in the leg with scissors.
Honestly, if watching The Rock hang off of a flaming building over the Hong Kong skyline sounds like a movie that interests you, you’ll probably enjoy Skyscraper. Big, loud, and dumb, it’s also 100% the movie advertised. For good and for ill, it delivers what it promises. It’s occasionally bland, sporadically a blast, and overall it’s not very good, but also kind of rad. [Grade: C]