By Jim Slotek
It’s likely that Dwayne Johnson could have beaten the mercenary terrorists in Die Hard with one hand behind his back. To prove it, he beats mercenary terrorists in the big, dumb Die Hard/Towering Inferno mash-up Skyscraper with one leg.
This is often literally true. An ex-FBI agent who lost his leg in a hostage-rescue gone wrong, Johnson’s character Will Sawyer uses his prosthesis as a club and an all-purpose tool as needed. Redefining “differently abled,” he climbs 90 stories up a scaffold to rescue his family from the world’s tallest tinderbox, making a world-record leap in the process, and crosses many precarious planks and makeshift pathways, always a half-second before they shatter in metal fatigue and flames.
But of course, in movies, a man determined to save his family is capable of the impossible, cheating death over and over and over (yawn).
Skyscraper is the kind of action movie that seems as if the script was written after the film was shot, so unimportant are the plot details. And it was likely pitched in about 10 seconds (“Die Hard plus The Towering Inferno plus The Rock”). The result is a movie that can kindly be called things like “a non-stop action thriller” and “a roller coaster ride” (and is already blurbed as such in the trailers). By now, such words should be considered more a warning than a recommendation.
The action mainly takes place in a futuristically high-tech 3,500 foot Hong Kong tower called The Pearl, which has opened up as the personal Xanadu of a Chinese tech billionaire named Zhao (Chin Han). It even has a Star Trek-like holodeck in the penthouse that, you can guess, will play a part in the final act.
Via his connections with an old FBI partner, Will has been single-handedly given the job of ascertaining the security of the building (apparently, Will is a world-class engineer and computer whiz, besides being a one-legged killing machine). As a bonus, he gets to bring his family (wife Sarah, played by Neve Campbell, and kids McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell).
And he’s being duped, by the kind of inter-racial terror group that only exists in the movies. In a line of dialogue that got an unintended laugh, Sarah helps the Hong Kong police by describing the chief bad guy (Roland Møller) as tall, Scandinavian and muscular, and in one second, his character (with the South African name of Koren Botha) appears on their screen. Damn, Google is good!
There’s also a sleek, leather-clad Asian killing machine (Hannah Quinlivan), who gets to do all her assassinating outside the building.
Their plan, whatever it is, involves setting fire to everything above the 90th floor of this impregnable building. (There is an implausible explanation, delivered in a minute of exposition near the end of the movie, that, as I say, comes off like it was written later.)
Although if Skyscraper does differ from the things from which it obviously derives, it’s its total embrace of social media. The McGuffin in the movie is a tablet with secret codes. And everything Will does in the pursuit of entering a burning building and saving his family is caught by thousands of onlookers on their smartphones and fed to a giant screen outside the building (and presumably livestreamed to the entire world). If the arsonists/hostage-takers really wanted to know where Will was at any time, they'd have just have to check the screen outside their window.
But for a start-up security expert with a staff of none, you just can’t buy that kind of global publicity.
Skyscraper. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell and Rolland Moller. Opens wide, Friday, July 13.