James Cole Clay // Film Critic
When it comes to Dwayne Johnson, what you see is what you get. His films for the better part of a decade have been unsurprising pieces of filmmaking that just simply ask the audience to leave happy — but what’s wrong that? Certainly nothing, because this is an age where need “nice” films that leave you all warm and fuzzy.
Johnson re-teams with filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber, who work with Johnson on the sleeper hit CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE, for a film about family, billionaires and bad guys with machine guns — no more, no less. However, in action filmmaking that tactic can be a filmmaker’s greatest ally, and in Thurber’s latest, SKYSCRAPER, he bolsters ridiculous fun that doesn’t completely commit to jumping off the edge.
Will Sawyer (Johnson) is a former FBI rescue team leader who now owns a small security analytics company after getting his leg blown off 10 years prior. He’s in Hong Kong on a job with his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their twin children, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). The job in question isn’t any job; he’s hired by billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) as security detail on the world’s tallest and state-of-the-art building, the Pearl — which stands 220 stories high. The film doesn’t take long to introduce a terrorist (Roland Moller) and his group of elite henchman who have been recruited across the world’s top crime syndicates. Fast forward a bit, the building is on fire and Sawyer’s family is stuck on the 96th floor of the burning building. He’s only going one direction… UP!
SKYSCRAPER owes every bit of its DNA to DIE HARD. While it takes the same high concept and uses it to less effect, Thurber and Johnson are creating a film that, for better or worse, is an original. Thurber, who has been known for comedies in his career like DODGEBALL and WE’RE THE MILLER, made an earnest action film that has the logic defying and head scratching stunts while using an immense amount of CGI that tempers the thrills. It truly makes you appreciate the lengths Tom Cruise goes to make his MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film series the gold standard for modern action fimmaking.
However, there is credit owed to the great cinematographer Robert Elswit (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL) who uses Johnson’s size to great effect as he’s lumbering up a crane and running with a prothetic leg, but his skills would be better suited elsewhere. While Thurber’s film may not be as harrowing or absurd as one would have hoped, its photography belongs in the penthouse.
There will be no surprises when it comes to SKYSCRAPER, a movie that works best if viewed as a theme park ride hosted by everybody’s favorite gargantuan movie star. While Johnson is completely likable, there’s diminishing returns as he’s climbs and gets higher; the adrenaline stays pretty level. Part of the inherent fun of a popcorn flick is the absurdity in its own premise, and that isn’t capitalized on enough to be satisfying.
SKYSCRAPER is going to be SKYSCRAPER, and that’s fine. But it’s difficult to be genuinely amazed in its technical abilities. Johnson knows his audience better than any entertainer in the business, and the days of Johnson taking a risky role such as SOUTHLAND TALES are gone. This isn’t a disaster as much as it is slight miscalculation. But if it’s escapism you’re looking for, then hop on board.
- Roland Moller was underused yet again in an American film. He starred a few years ago with an incredible performance in the film LAND OF MINE. We needed more from our villain.
- It’s so great seeing Neve Campbell kicking ass on the big-screen again. She’s been sorely missed.
- We needed more clever bits with Johnson’s prosthetic leg.
SKYSCRAPER opens nationwide Friday.