I have a soft spot for 1970s disaster movies. Some of them were really entertaining, like “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno,” and “Airport.” Some of them were horrible, like “Meteor,” “Earthquake,” and the “Airport” sequels. That’s why I wanted to see the new movie “Skyscraper,” which may not have the all-star casts of those titles, but does have the second-highest-paid actor in the world, Dwayne Johnson.
I haven’t seen many Johnson movies (does “Get Smart” count?), but there’s no denying he’s a star whose charisma pops right out of the screen. “Skyscraper” relies almost entirely on his star power in the same way the success of “Die Hard” rested on Bruce Willis’ back. And that’s not the only thing that will make you think of the Nakatomi building drama as you watch this one.
The plot? Johnson’s an ex-military, ex-FBI guy who’s now in the building security business. He’s asked to check out The Pearl, a new tallest-in-the-world facility that’s three times the height of the Empire State Building, which means it’s a thousand feet bigger than the current title holder, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. He brings along his wife (Neve Campbell) and two cute kids. Unfortunately, some bad guys start a fire within the building while Johnson’s outside and his family’s inside, above the fire line.
To save them, he must get away from police, climb a 100-story crane, and leap 40 feet through the air to grab onto a building ledge. Can he do it? C’mon, you know the answer. Of course the hero’s going to win the day (that’s what you get in a big summer popcorn movie like this!), even if he has to do it while missing half a leg.
Considering Johnson has all of his appendages in real-life, his appearance later in the movie includes the best CGI prosthetic work I’ve seen since Gary Sinise as legless Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump.” As for Campbell, she’s intact, and I was happy to see that she was given some action sequences of her own, so she wasn’t playing the damsel-in-distress a la Stella Stevens, Faye Dunaway, and Jacqueline Bisset.
While I’m making references to other movies, let me add that “Skyscraper” is full of, um, let’s call them homages. Aside from the obvious “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno” nods, there’s a gunfight in a room with mirrored images that’s reminiscent of Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai” (and the James Bond movie “The Man With The Golden Gun”). When Johnson is scaling the outside of the building horizontally with duct-tape window-grippers, I thought of Tom Cruise doing something similar in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” There’s also a scene with an access panel in an unlikely place Johnson must get to that reminded me of Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver having to make their way through the giant chompers in “Galaxy Quest” (followed by Weaver yelling, “Whoever wrote this episode should die!!”)
One thing “Skyscraper” is missing is a good villain. Sure, there’s a Bad Guy In Charge, but he’s no Hans Gruber, and the actor who plays him (Roland Moller) is no Alan Rickman, by a long shot. You may find yourself wondering why the bad guys set the skyscraper on fire. What are they after? It doesn’t matter — even when you find out.
I’ll bet that most of the audience for “Skyscraper” will be in China, since it’s specifically tailor-made to appeal there. The Pearl is in downtown Hong Kong (though the set was in Vancouver). Legendary Entertainment, the production company that financed the movie, is majority-owned by China-based Wanda Group. Chin Han, one of the top Asian actors of all time, plays the owner/architect of the building, and many of the supporting cast are Chinese.
It doesn’t matter. “Skyscraper” was exactly what I expected. It’s not great, but it’s not horrible. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief at the door, it’s a fun, escapist ride with non-stop action. One caveat: I squirmed a bit with a 9/11 flashback when I saw a long shot of the skyscraper with one of its middle floors on fire, but it passed as the plot kept hurtling along.
I give “Skyscraper” a 6.5 out of 10.