Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenwriter: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, Kevin Rankin, Roland Mueller, Byron Mann
Screened at: Lincoln Square, NYC, 7/9/18
Opens: July 13, 2018
Here we have yet another expensive movie that fits into the template of summer spectaculars but which is at bottom soulless, without genuine imagination, interesting performances, novelty, and twists and turns. When compared with others of the blockbuster entries like the “Die Hard” series and “Mission Impossible,” “Skyscraper” does not match up, as the movie is without humor or irony of any attribute that would give it momentum beyond a seemingly endless array of stunts. There are spectacular fires on a massive scale and attention paid to the usual accoutrements of thrillers, taking advantage of all the tricks and optics of a computer generation and the skills of teams of special effects engineers. And the film serves as well as a love letter to Hong Kong, which despite being part of China is regularly cited as by the Economic Freedom index as having the freest market economy in the world, just ahead of Singapore.
Nor does it dumb down the language. The Chinese participants speak Cantonese, with a billionaire builder wholly bilingual.
San Francisco-born Rawson Marshall Thurber, its screenwriter-director, has expanded his score quote a bit since his 2004 movie “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” about a group of misfits in a Las Vegas tournament, and more recently “Central Intelligence,” about an accountant lured into the world of espionage. Thurber opens with a dramatic scene: Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), a decorated Marine and now an FBI agent, is in a hostage standoff with a big guy who is holding his kid in front of him to avoid surrendering or being shot by a group of agents with laser-beam rifles. The unexpected happens and Sawyer loses a leg which, ten years later, finds him married to Sarah Sawyer (Neve Campbell), a surgeon who sewed him up and fixed him with a high-tech artificial leg. Now with a wife and two kids living temporarily in the world’s tallest building (over 200 stories), he serves as principal security consultant on the edifice built by Chinese billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), using a face-identity tablet to make final checks on the structure’s security. This is where Thurber can take advantage of the usual graphics of multiple computer screens, lights that beam “open” or “closed,” and, sadly, a plot device that’s confusing. It appears that the bad guys, members of a syndicate with extortion plots around the world, seek to take a gadget from Zhao, one which exposes the locations and puts his syndicate in jeopardy.
Why they have to start a fire on a high floor is anybody’s guess, but somehow this was to lead to the capture of the gadget. Fortunately, Sawyer is not simply a guy who knows how to check a building’s security with his hand-held tablet, but given his experience in the FBI and Marines, he is able to overcome all threats to himself and especially to his family, as his wife and kids are thrust into mortal danger by the gangsters. At one point they threaten to toss one of the little guys from a high floor to the streets below, as a large crowd of onlookers gasp at every turn and appear ready to applaud mightily if their hero succeeds in outwitting the villains.
The movie audience, hopefully distracted from lame dialogue and plot confusions, will focus mostly on Dwayne Johnson’s acrobatics: he flies through the air on a rope; he clings to a window ledge by his arms, in one instance losing his grip and depending on his other muscular limb to preserve his life; and most amusingly he has to deal with a huge door that might find a place in Trump Tower by quickly detaching his metal leg, using it to prevent the door from closing—like a passenger on a New York subway who sticks a foot in the door to keep it from closing, which would force him to wait four minutes for the next train. The one relatable scene is an elevator fall that thrusts the Sawyers from over a hundred stories, plunging them into what looks like their final ride to the street. This might have been influenced by Disney World’s Tower of Terror.
The producers are hoping for big box office from China, and no wonder. This movie must have sailed through whatever government body authorizes a quota of American movies, makes Hong Kong look like a tourist destination, and gives jobs to scores of Chinese actors and extras.
Rated PG-13. 102 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C-
Acting – C+
Technical – B
Overall – C+