Skyscraper//Entertaining Cliffhanger

The villains in the predictable but entertaining cliffhanger “Skyscraper” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) find themselves literally caught between a rock–Dwayne Johnson–and a hard place–the world’s tallest building. “Central Intelligence” writer & director Rawson Marshall Thurber must have been thinking about the Bruce Willis thriller “Die Hard” (1988) and Irwin Allen’s classic disaster epic “The Towering Inferno” (1974) when he cobbled together this derivative, white-knuckled hokum.  While the CGI passes muster, Dwayne Johnson amounts to “Skyscraper’s” the biggest special effect. The Rock’s charismatic presence redeems this far-fetched, but formulaic caper with clichés galore.  Nevertheless, Johnson challenges himself because his character has suffered the consequences for adversity.  A former FBI Agent who almost bought the farm in a bomb blast when he cornered a suicide bomber, our hero lost his left leg below the knee and now sports a prosthetic leg.  Thurber exploits this handicap for maximum suspense during a daredevil, window-walking act outside the tower reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s shenanigans on a similar skyscraper in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.”  Ostensibly, the message is you need not be all-in-one-piece to pull off the impossible.  No, this isn’t the first time a hero with a handicap has triumphed over cinematic malefactors.  As a photographer with a broken leg in a plaster cast, James Stewart tangled with a depraved spouse-slayer in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Rear Window” (1954), while Spencer Tracy contended with the bad guys as a one-armed troubleshooter in John Sturges’ “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955).  Asian actor Jimmy Wong Yu portrayed a resilient warrior in “The One-Armed Swordsman” (1967), “Return of the One-Armed Swordsman” (1969), and “The One-Armed Swordsman Against Nine Killers” (1976).  Unmistakably, “The Crippled Masters” (1979) ranks as the ultimate action movie with two handicapped heroes played by genuinely lame guys in real-life.  In this outlandish Hong Kong actioneer, a man without legs teamed up with a guy without arms to fight as one against an army of thugs.  Many more movies too numerous to name have featured heroes with disabilities, but this is the Rock’s debut as a physically encumbered combatant.  This is probably the most inventive element in “Skyscraper” because the protagonist must not only defeat his adversaries, but he must also conquer his own limitations!

“Skyscraper” starts with FBI Agent Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson of “Rampage”) and his Hostage Rescue Team surrounding a suicide bomber in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.  This ill-fated rendezvous with mortality happened a decade before the events that take place in Hong Kong.  Since he lost his leg, Sawyer had to leave the FBI.  Now, he works out of his garage at home as a security consultant.  As fate would have it, the top-flight Navy surgeon who saved his life later became his wife.  “Scream” queen Neve Campbell plays Sawyer’s wife Sarah. They have two children: an older daughter, Georgia (newcomer McKenna Roberts), and a younger son Henry (newcomer Noah Cottrell) with asthma problems.  They accompany Will to China to meet his prospective new employer, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han of “The Dark Knight”), a visionary billionaire who erected the Pearl, a 3000-foot pinnacle looming majestically over the heart of Hong Kong.  Mind you, Zhao might never have known about Will had Sawyer’s former FBI colleague Ben Gillespie (Pablo Schreiber of “Den of Thieves”) not recommended him. Sawyer lavishes praise on the safety features of the Pearl.  Nobody but Zhao resides in the building.  At the last minute, Sarah and Will’s kids take up temporary residence on the 96th floor.  After Will delivers his briefing, Zhao gives him a biometrically-encoded tablet which enables him to control the Pearl’s sophisticated high-tech security systems, including its fire suppression procedures.   Suddenly, events take a dramatic turn for the worse.  Shortly after he departs from this conference with Zhao, Sawyer grapples with a thug who steals the bag he was carrying.  Afterward, Ben is appalled to learn the bag didn’t contain the tablet, so he pulls a gun on his old friend.  A knockdown, drag-out fight ensues.  Before Will can escape with the tablet, one of Botha’s minions, Xia (Hannah Quinlivan of “The Shanghai Job”), intercepts him, confiscates the tablet, and cancels the Pearl’s fire response systems.  Everybody gets the mistaken idea that Will had double-crossed Zhao.  Specifically, the Hong Kong Police launch a manhunt for our hero as smoke and flame erupt from the skyscraper.  Inspector Wu (Byron Mann of “Street Fighter”) dispatches uniformed police to arrest Will, but he is puzzled when Will scales the heights of the Pearl via a high-rise crane to enter the flaming edifice and rescue his family.  Indeed, the Rock’s heroic leap defies gravity, otherwise the movie would have ended abruptly had he plunged to his death.

Despite its gravity-defying feats, “Skyscraper” constitutes just another tall tale.  First, although the villains are appropriately cold-blooded, Thurber has neglected to flesh them out beyond one-dimensional stereotypes.  “Die Hard” remains memorable as much for Bruce Willis’ intrepid feats as the hero as Alan Rickman’s audacious antics as his adversary.  As the chief villain, Danish actor Roland Møller not only looks fierce as treacherous Scandinavian terrorist Kores Botha, but he also has an ingenious plan.  Unfortunately, the Rock dwarfs Botha in both intelligence and size.  Thurber should have enhanced Møller’s malice.   Ironically, one of Botha’s subordinates, Xia, qualifies as a more noteworthy villain, since she frames our hero efficiently for the inferno.  Naturally, Johnson emerges as a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, driven without a thought for his own safety to save his family from a fiery death while contending with heavily-armed homicidal antagonists in the tallest skyscraper on record.  Second, the object of all this skullduggery is a tiny computer chip.  This chip contains incredibly damaging information about Botha’s terrorist colleagues that Zhao endeavors to use against them.  One of Johnson’s best lines sums up “Skyscraper”: “If you can’t fix it with duct tape… you ain’t using enough duct tape.” Comparatively, “Skyscraper” could have benefitted with more duct tape in the form of cunning villains.

 

 


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