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Film Review: “Skyscraper” Collapses Upon Its Own Contrived Weight

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 12th, 2018

Film poster: “Skyscraper”

Skyscraper (Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2018) 1 out of 4 stars.

Professional wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Baywatch) is always a charismatic screen presence, no matter the quality of the film in which he stars. A mighty giant of a man with a smile that engages as much as his muscles ripple, he alternates vibes between imp and bruiser. In Skyscraper, a forgettable and mostly inane action thriller set in a burning Hong Kong high-rise, he mostly bruises. Paging writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (of the far more appealing Central Intelligence): if you’re going to rip off Die Hard, try making more with the jokes, especially if your main conceit collapses under the weight of its contrivances.

After a prologue that is as disturbingly violent as it is dumb, we cut to the present, 10 years later, where Johnson’s Will Sawyer, now minus a leg and married to the surgeon, played by Neve Campbell (Walter), who patched him up, is a security consultant hired to evaluate the world’s tallest building before its top half opens to the public. Towering over the streets below, crowned by a greenhouse garden, spherical observation deck, rotating double helix that creates its own power supply, and the penthouse suite in which its developer, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han, A Different Sun) lives as the current sole inhabitant, the structure screams out for something bad to happen to it. Sure enough, in a series of screenplay moves that play to our expectations, a group of would-be terrorists invade, trapping not only Zhao inside the subsequent inferno, but Sawyer’s wife and two kids, as well. At least they’re white terrorists (with a little local Asian help), for once, the one true novelty of the movie.

Mayhem ensues, but there’s never any doubt as to whether or not The Rock will prevail, missing leg notwithstanding. An interesting note about the prosthetic: though at times our hero walks with a noticeable limp, when the kindling flares, he can run and jump like a pro. The set pieces are adequate, but never rise to the level of excitement. Did I express a desire for humor? Well, to be fair, we do get some, mostly involving Sawyer’s miraculous use of duct tape, though other moments seem less intentional. My favorite inadvertent minute of hilarity comes when Sawyer must leap between the blades of the double helix to access a power console, placed there by Zhao, recalling a similar out-of-the-way location of a shut-off device in the satirical film Galaxy Quest. There however, the stupidity of the placement was the point; here, it’s an excuse for yet another improbable jump.

Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson in SKYSCRAPER ©Universal Pictures

And on and on. Would that it were more entertaining. Johnson is game enough, as is Campbell, though her character is woefully underwritten and riddled with inconsistencies of competence; neither are well-served by the script. I did enjoy two of the villains, however: lead baddie Roland Møller (Land of Mine) and his off-site  lieutenant Hannah Quinlivan (The Shanghai Job). They sneer and snarl, kick and kill, and have fun doing it. See it for them, and hope that Johnson next time gets a better cinematic vehicle for his copious charm.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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