Coming off the wildly successful, utterly ludicrous video game adaptation, “Rampage,” human action figure Dwayne Johnson returns to the big screen to save his fictional family from a burning building three times the size of the Empire State Building in “Skyscraper,” an action thriller chock-full of unrealistic heroism and strained acting.
Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who Johnson previously collaborated with on the 2016 hit action comedy “Central Intelligence,” this summer spectacle offers precious little by way of originality, featuring one predictable action set piece after another, leaving audiences plenty to root for but nothing to be surprised by. Although there are moments that impress, including some spectacular hand-to-hand combat, superlative special effects and memorable camerawork from acclaimed cinematographer Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood,” “Nightcrawler”), “Skyscraper” still feels like a mishmash of disparate elements cobbled together from superior action movies. And while Johnson and costars Neve Campbell hit all of the second-rate screenplay’s requisite notes of derring-do and terror, one can’t help but hold back laughter at the far-fetched plot and over-the-top acting.
In the film, Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader ten years removed from a devastating standoff that resulted in the loss of his leg. Happily married with two kids (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) to Sarah (Neve Campbell), the Naval surgeon who saved his life, Sawyer has successfully adapted to life with a disability, now working as a security specialist for skyscrapers. For his latest assignment, Sawyer and his family have been relocated to Hong Kong, where he’s lending his security expertise to The Pearl, the world’s tallest and most technologically advanced structure. With its mesmerizing architectural flourishes and idyllic living quarters where his family has taken up residence, Sawyer’s gig at The Pearl is looking promising indeed.
Unfortunately, little does Sawyer know that he’s merely a cog in a diabolical plot by a ruthless bad guy named Kores Botha (Rolland Moller) who has his sights set on burning the building down in the interest of extorting its billionaire backer, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). As if this isn’t a tough enough scenario for a first day on the job, Sawyer has to deal with the added impediments of being framed for the incident as well as having his family caught within the fireline. With the clock ticking and his family facing imminent demise, Sawyer must reach into his grab bag of heroics to pull off the impossible.
With his first foray into thriller territory, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber displays a formidable knowledge of the genre, and under the guise of homage cherry-picks plot points from classics like “Die Hard” and “The Fugitive.” By using elements from these tried-and-true examples in the genre, and with the help of cinematographer Robert Elswit, Thurber manages to stage some pretty impressive action sequences along the way, far-fetched though they may be. Eventually, though, the thinness of the storyline and the overwhelming superficiality of the proceedings cause the structure to irreversibly lose its integrity. From the countless examples of on the nose dialogue and laughable one-note characters to the narrative shortcuts and lazy plot holes, even for a Dwayne Johnson actioner, the suspension of disbelief required to buy into this nonsense is simply too damn much.
As Will Sawyer, Dwayne Johnson operates comfortably within his action hero wheelhouse, though the role, with its limitations given the character’s disability, does require an extreme degree of physicality for the actor. However, as physically impressive as it is, and despite Johnson’s well-noted charisma, the implausible nature of the storyline ultimately undercuts his character’s heroism. Portraying Sawyer’s surgically gifted but technologically deficient wife, Neve Campbell proves that she’s more than capable of handling the minimal damsel-in-distress notes that her role requires, and will hopefully lead to more regular work for the gifted actress. Other supporting roles are strictly one-dimensional, with Roland Moller going full villain mode as the evildoing extortionist Kores Botha and Noah Taylor as a duplicitous insurance broker.
Any “Skyscraper” this shoddily constructed is bound for ruin.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language.