Dwayne Johnson's 'Skyscraper' Proves Why We All Want to Be Him

Playboy film critic Stephen Rebello reviews the star's latest logic-defying action flick

Has the heat wave got you feeling all lazy, stupid and in need of escape? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and along comes hulking Dwayne Johnson and his Central Intelligence director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, with something desperate indeed—the ludicrous, chortle-out-loud, fire-in-the-sky action thriller Skyscraper.

The duo’s cure for our summertime blues, the flick is an unapologetic shout-out to the 1990s B-movie chest thumpers that once made celluloid heroes out of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. But as scripted by Thurber, Skyscraper feels duct-taped together from some of the best bits from Die Hard, The Towering Inferno, John Wick, Enter the Dragon and—hey, why not?—The Lady From Shanghai.

It’s packed with campy acting from people delivering terrible dialogue as flatly and unconvincingly as it sounds in the worst video games. It features crowd scenes with tons of Asian extras cheering on and fearing for Johnson while mugging shamelessly or, sometimes, looking in the wrong direction. It has a slinky, arch young female assassin in designer shoes and dangly earrings who flips back her coiffure after every wisecracking kill she makes. It is crammed with special effects-driven, death-defying, high-altitude stunts and derring-do meant to induce vertigo but mostly inducing boredom because of repetition. 
The ridiculously likable, pec-tacular Dwayne Johnson does what's made him a Big Fat Movie Star, which means scaling buildings, surviving knife wounds and constantly defying physics and logic.
Only that all makes Skyscraper sound like kind of a Bad Movies We Love blast. Which it sometimes is—just not often enough. In another moviegoing era, the makers of Skyscraper would have spotted this formulaic would-be franchise as the kind of cheesy, bargain-matinee popcorn flick requiring some goosing-up with a big, stupid gimmick like, say, Sensurround, Smell-O-Vision or, better yet, both.

Instead, its sole gimmick is the absurdly proportioned, ridiculously likable, pec-tacular Johnson. He does what's made him a Big Fat Movie Star, which means he spends pretty much the entire running time of the movie—a glorified arcade game, really—scaling dizzyingly tall buildings despite a prosthetic limb, swinging from ropes, surviving knife wounds, burns, terrible falls, tasering and more, while constantly defying physics and logic. What he's never required to do is change expressions beyond a concerned frown.  

Despite director-writer Thurber’s being a hardcore fan of quippy, jokey disaster movies like Die Hard and Cliffhanger, his script is straight-faced and oddly humorless, merely presenting Johnson as former FBI Special Ops expert Will Sawyer wounded in action, now a security specialist whose office is his home garage. Sawyer is mysteriously plucked out of oblivion by multi-, multi-zillionaire Zhao (Chin Han) to do a last-minute safety inspection of the visionary’s labor of love—Hong Kong’s twisty, spiraling architectural wonder The Pearl, the world’s tallest, most technologically advanced office and residential building.
Nothing much is at stake, and nobody’s saving the world, in this harmless, brainless action romp.
The shiny, upright dude played by Johnson somehow never seems to suspect dirty doings from the old FBI buddy who ropes him into the deal in the first place. We do. After all, the role is played by the gifted Pablo Schreiber, nicely cleaned-up after his “Pornstache” days on Orange Is the New Black, but far too good an actor to waste on a mere “nice guy” role. Sure enough, a merciless terrorist (Roland Moller) is in hot pursuit of a nonsensical McGuffin possessed by Zhao, so he and a pack of goons (few given much chance of making any impression on the viewer) torch the structure. Meanwhile, our Super Good Guy hero’s super charming twins (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell) and super smart, ex-soldier wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell, nice to see you again), are trapped within the structure but struggling to get out.

The balance of the action has Johnson scaling all 240 floors in no time flat and performing one heart-stopping leap, jump, pull-up and rescue after another, while the underused but effective Neve Campbell, even in boots with heels, gets to show her survivalist mettle on her own. One of the movie’s most endearing absurdities is how often Johnson detaches his prosthetic limb to use it as a weapon or a lifesaver in a tough spot.

But, really, nothing much is at stake, and nobody’s saving the world, in this harmless, brainless action romp that features a largely Asian cast and lumbers along without a single decent, hiss-able villain like, say, Die Hard's Hans Gruber, played to the hilt by Alan Rickman. Skyscraper pretends to be all about family and togetherness, which appears to be Dwayne Johnson’s brand and a secret to his success. Yet there isn’t a genuinely human moment in this entirely synthetic towering inferno of clichés. Still, it has Johnson, which, for some audiences, will be reason enough to put up with it.

Skyscraper

Pros
It's Dwayne Johnson saving the day. What's not to like?
Cons
Does this movie sound familiar? There's a reason for that
Rating: 2 out of 4 bunnies

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