Disaster film falls flat
Dad embarks on a 9/11-esque rescue operation
(4) SKYSCRAPER Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Noah Taylor, Roland Møller, Hannah Quinlivan. Reviewed by: Robbie Collin.
Going on the strident advertising for Skyscraper you would think Universal had come up with a modern-day Towering
Inferno. Alas, the end result holds all the appeal of a burntout wheelie bin.
Here is a bland and perfunctory disaster film in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saves his family from a terrorist group’s firebomb strike on the world’s newly unveiled tallest building.
The overt invocation of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks is now par for the course in the action-adventure strand of Johnson’s career: see also 2015’s San Andreas and this year’s Rampage, both of which also had the wrestler-turned-movie-star embark on a 9/11esque rescue operation with a fantastical slant (one apocalyptic earthquake, one giant gorilla gone berserk).
The difference this time is there is virtually nothing else to it: just Johnson dangling over unconvincing CGI precipices while people occasionally shoot at him, interspersed with relentlessly earnest declarations of fatherly love.
After an hour or so, the film rolls out its signature stunt, as extensively hawked in the trailers: Johnson leaping from the prow of a construction crane into the ninety-something floor of the burning building itself.
On the ground below, a gathering crowd cheers him on, as does at least one police officer – even though at this point in proceedings, Johnson’s character is suspected of being responsible for the blast and his mugshot is all over the rolling news.
For a film with an incredibly straightforward premise – effectively, man goes upstairs – trips over itself an awful lot.
Johnson’s character is Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent who lost a leg in the line of duty, then married the military surgeon (Neve Campbell) who patched him up.
Now a renowned security consultant, Will has been flown to Hong Kong with his family so he can cast his expert eye over The Pearl, a twisting super-spire that dwarfs the Burj Khalifa, and would even top three Empire State Buildings stacked lobby to mast.
The Sawyers are the Pearl’s first and, to date, only civilian residents. And this means they are also the only potential casualties when a squad of extraordinarily well-equipped bad guys set fire to the place and disable the sprinkler system in the hope of convincing the developer (Chin Han) to part with, of all things, a sensitive USB stick.
Handily, the place seems to have been constructed with a Die Hard-like stand-off in mind.
Key features include a vertiginous garden atrium, some treacherous wind turbines with an important control panel in between and a spherical penthouse full of mirrorlike plasma screens that’s good for nothing but a confusing final shoot-out.
Yet, the building itself is a missed opportunity. For one thing, it looks nothing like an existing piece of architecture and everything like a sound stage with green-screen trimmings: there are scenes here that make you doubt the actors are in the same room together, let alone that the room is half a kilometre up and also contains an exploding helicopter.
For another, it’s a total bore design-wise: the only memorable fixtures are a series of networked gestural control panels and smartwatches.
Additionally [However], its relationship with the laws of physics doesn’t appear to be a binding one. During the collapse of the atrium, Johnson’s character somehow manages to hold up a crumbling bridge while standing on it.
The writer and director is Rawson Marshall Thurber, known for his Ben Stiller-led sports satire Dodgeball, and pairing Johnson with Kevin Hart in the buddy comedy Central Intelligence.
As such, you would be forgiven for expecting a similarly light-hearted approach here, but for the most part the film doesn’t even try to be funny.
The welcome exceptions are some creative usage of Will’s prosthetic leg and a running joke about duct tape, although even that occasionally feels downplayed.
Could it be that Thurber originally wrote Skyscraper as a comedy until it was decided the project would be better played straight? Either way, it’s a bungalow with delusions. –
HANGING ON: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has to save the day, again, in the disaster action movie ‘Skyscraper’