Five year ago if you had told me that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson would be the highest paid, most reliable movie star in Hollywood I would have laughed in your face. Snitch had just come out and critics were saying it was his best performance to date. For anyone that has seen Snitch, this must have seemed like a backhanded compliment. Not only is it a dull, lifeless movie it is centred around a dry and uninteresting performance. Still considered The Rock, and not Dwayne Johnson, serious actor, 2013 was a different time. Now we live on another planet where Marvel has turned the action blockbuster into a sure thing and Dwayne Johnson has managed to detach himself from The Rock. Every now and then though a movie comes along that brings us crashing back to earth, a movie so tone-deaf and misjudged that we remember a time long ago, a movie that reminds us of The Rock and Snitch and the awkward buildup to this point. That movie is Skyscraper.
Skyscraper follows Will Sawyer (Johnson), a security expert hired to review security for the tallest building in the world. When he and his family are put up in the safest building ever made he assumes nothing can go wrong. However when terrorists start a fire in the building in an attempt to lure out enigmatic billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), Will and his family are caught inside between a raging fire and a group of violent mercenaries.
If that tickles your fancy then you are by all estimations pretty normal, hell I liked the idea of it, the reviews describing it as a mix between The Towering Inferno and Die Hard didn’t hurt either. The problem is if you describe a movie as being like two cult classics it has to live up to not one but two other, better films. Skyscraper doesn’t. Not only is it gormless with little thought put into it besides what scenarios can be solved by muscle flexing and excessive violence but it seems designed for Johnson instead of written to entertain.
There is an argument that these kinds of action films are supposed to be mindless but the plot of this suggests otherwise. You see Sawyer is an amputee, an interesting development and piece of character that at first adds a hidden depth to the usual brooding alpha male meat slab that populates these kinds of film. Around the halfway point though this develops into a crutch ironically. His leg is used as a plot point, a way to get him out of situations, not as a way to emphasise his extreme struggle. It doesn’t so much come off as a disability but as an upgrade. Forgive me in thinking that most amputees didn’t have two working limbs and just decided, nah I want one made out of Titanium because I can use it to hang off buildings with.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber of Dodgeball fame takes a shot at some more high-octane fare here but the action is probably the most boring part of the film. Oddly enough the film works best in the quieter moments when Sawyer is with his family, friends or just taking a moment to recover from his many bouts of Leg-Fu. Neve Campbell fits nicely as Sawyer’s wife Sarah, a tough in her own right military surgeon. She worked well enough for me to wonder why I wasn’t watching a film where a single mother had to do all this, that would be a film I would happily watch.
Now I may be overselling why not to watch Johnson’s latest because it does have a certain switch off and go appeal but in the end I found it hard not to notice call backs to other films when Thurber, also the writer here, got stuck and needed a get out of jail free card. Too often does the film harken back to Samuel L Jackson’s The Negotiator or The Towering Inferno. In fact I found it hard to see Die Hard here, something I was thankful for after sitting through Final Score but in avoiding the obvious callbacks he has stolen from other places, something the average movie viewer won’t mind but something I found inexcusable and particularly lazy.
Ultimately I would say there can be fun had here but not the kind that lasts ninety minutes or even any time after that. This is forgettable cinema that really wasn’t needed or asked for. A film out of time that harkens back to Johnson’s earlier career, Skyscraper is old news before it even starts.