'Skyscraper': The Rock stands tall in very tall tale about very, very tall building
“Skyscraper” is “The Towering Inferno” meets “Die Hard” meets a botched lobotomy. I’d say it’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen in a while, except for the recent release of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” a movie in which characters make decisions not for the well-being of themselves or their planet, but to make the movie they’re in more entertaining.
A similar dedication to loony contrivance drives “Skyscraper.” But even though it’s driven by a relatively keen sense of logic - emphasis on “relatively” - I count among its relative flaws the fact that it doesn’t have dinosaurs in it. It does, however, benefit in casting action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has a T-rex-sized screen presence. The only thing that’s bigger than him in “Skyscraper” is the skyscraper itself, but don’t worry, he’ll conquer it soon enough. With one leg, even.
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI hostage-squad hero who loses his leg below the knee in the movie’s grim opening scene, which sets the tone for absolutely nothing that follows. Ten years later, Will dons his prosthetic, dresses for work and gingerly limps down the stairs. Don’t worry - once he steals a motorcycle and climbs a massive construction crane and scales the side of the skyscraper with the world’s strongest curtain draw-cord in order to save his imperiled family, the limp vanishes, his disability pretty much forgotten. Until he needs the prosthetic as a prop, that is.
Will now works as a consultant, hired to audit the mega-high-tech security system in the Pearl, a Hong Kong “supertall structure” that’s three times taller than the Empire State Building, and inspired the Burj Khalifa to sit around for weeks in a depressive funk, binging Netflix and letting Chinese-food takeout containers pile up on the coffee table. Will’s jittery the day of the review. “He’s talking to himself again,” says one of his adorable moppet children to his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and it’s understandable. Somebody has to narrate this crap, right?
What follows is a quiet and understated cross-cultural drama of manners, and not a movie in which The Rock inspires gales of laughter in moments of anguish, cracks dopey duct tape jokes and performs feats making Superman look like Inspector Clouseau. Just as we expected.
The plot puts a group of Euro-terrorist thugs in the Pearl, uncorking a diabolical scheme to take down the skyscraper’s very rich owner, Chin Han (Zhao Long Ji), for reasons I forgot once things started exploding. The bad guys start a fire on the 96th floor, trapping Sarah and the moppets above the upward-rising flames. Using the film’s reality and its questionable laws of physics as a basis, if they leapt to the moon to save themselves, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch.
To doubt their survival even for a second is to admit you’ve never seen another movie before in your life. And it’s up to the Rock to fulfill his popcorn-flick destiny. He grits his teeth and does what he has to, which often leaves him hanging by a cuticle from dizzying heights. I haven’t felt my acrophobia kick in this intensely during a stupid movie since Ben Stiller dangled a Ferrari out the window in “Tower Heist,” or during a not-stupid movie since Tom Cruise dangled himself outside the Burj Khalifa in “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.”
The Rock is fearless in “Skyscraper,” and very strong, and relentless in his commitment to heroism, and considering his comfort with miniscule ledges 130 stories in the air, was quite possibly once bitten by a radioactive spider. Notably, the Rock’s performance is sincere enough in its motive and character to squash the audience’s guffaws for whole seconds at a time.
The film pairs cheap thrills with expensive CGI, its relentless engine fueled by wholesale tankerloads of implausibility. It never reveals a seemingly extraneous detail in the first act that it didn’t want to invoke as a plot device in the third. I’ll be candid: the movie is more idiotic fun than it has any right to be. Unlike other films of its ilk, it’s reasonably well-directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball: An Underdog Story”), is tautly and quickly paced, and hasn’t been edited with a threshing machine set on “eviscerate.”
It’s also more entertaining than any number of Rock vehicles, including “Rampage,” “Baywatch,” “San Andreas,” “Central Intelligence,” “Pain and Gain,” his four “Fast/Furious” movies, “Race to Witch Mountain,” “Get Smart,” “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” “The Game Plan,” “Tooth Fairy,” “The Other Guys” and “Doom.” Did I forget any?
Perhaps there’s more to “Skyscraper” than meets the eye very brightly and the ear very loudly. Perhaps the building is a symbol of humanity’s hubristic folly. Perhaps the Rock is a symbol of the mentally and physically indestructible human we all wish we could be. Or perhaps the movie is simply the kind that unwittingly reviews itself in its own dialogue: “This is crazy,” says the Rock. “Oh come on, man,” says the Rock. “This is stupid!” says the Rock. Take your pick.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Run time: 102 minutes