For a review of “Skyscraper,”
The hardest working man in showbiz, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson debuts his third blockbuster action flick in nine months this weekend.
The descriptively titled “Skyscraper,” which comes on the heels of “Rampage” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed Johnson in the very funny buddy comedy “Central Intelligence.” “Skyscraper” — a sort of reverse “Die Hard,” where a family man breaks into an imposing structure to save his family — scoots by on the thinnest of premises, and an even thinner script.
While it’s a completely disposable story, “Skyscraper” is fascinating simply for Thurber’s fascination with evolving Johnson’s star persona. In “Central Intelligence,” he cast Johnson against type, liberating him from gruff meathead roles and uncovering his goofy comedic talent. In “Skyscraper,” Thurber takes Johnson to a darker, grittier place. Don’t expect to see much of his megawatt grin here. Johnson’s Will Sawyer is tough as nails, using brute force, blunt instruments and plenty of duct tape to rescue his family from a burning building. He barely even touches a gun.
In so many of his films, Johnson is like some kind of comic book superhero: cartoonishly strong, his biceps bulging to an unimaginable size — he dwarfs the usually yoked Vin Diesel in the “Fast and Furious” films. But in “Skyscraper,” Thurber seeks to diminish that strength. The camera looks down on him rather than up, and he’s outfitted in rumpled business casual rather than tactical spandex. It makes Johnson more human before we then watch him perform feats of strength and derringdo using simple machines, like Buster Keaton on human-growth hormone.
Thurber literally handicaps Will, who loses his leg in a bombing as an FBI rescue team leader 10 years prior to the events of the film. He loses the limb but gains a wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), the surgeon who operated on him. They’re in Hong Kong with their twins at the tallest skyscraper in the world, The Pearl, where Will is putting in a bid as a security consultant for the self-sustaining city in the sky. Scams, theft, arson and double-crosses ensue, and soon Will is outside The Pearl, which is on fire, trying to get in to save his trapped family as a team of thieves are trying to get out.
One has to wonder if the entirety of “Skyscraper” was reverse-engineered around a single stunt, wherein Will leaps from a construction crane into a crashed-open window of The Pearl. The leap does draw gasps and cheers from the audience — both the one seated in the theater, and the onscreen audience of onlookers watching Will’s exploits on massive news screens on the street. This screen-within-a-screen device is a little slice of meta commentary laced throughout that visualizes the literal spectacle that is Johnson and his physical capabilities.
This depiction of how we see Johnson as an action star, and the twists in his evolution as a performer are what make “Skyscraper” interesting to watch. The charm is turned down, the seriousness turned up and Johnson pulls it off. It’s also a refreshing change to see him have a fully realized romantic partner for once, and Campbell gets her own set of heroics to perform.
Otherwise, the plot is strangely simplistic, the special effects murky and chaotic. The cast is stacked with an array of international actors, no doubt to appeal to a wide global audience. With a few well-delivered lines and a killer haircut, Taiwanese model and actress Hannah Quinlivan makes quite the visual impression as an entertaining, if underwritten villain.
Thurber’s storytelling is rote at best, scanty in some places, but the performers sell it with all they’ve got. “Skyscraper” is standard issue, but it makes for a compelling entry in the story of Johnson’s stardom, and his total Hollywood domination.
“Skyscraper,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. Running time: 102 minutes.
“Hotel Transylvania 3”
It’s all about the zing.
If you are not up on monster speak, the term zing refers to what happens once in the life of a vampire, mummy, werewolf, etc. It’s that moment when they know they have found the one true love in their life.
In the case of “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) learns it’s possible to zing more than once as he meets the new once-in-a-lifetime love of his life during a monster sea cruise. While Dracula zings again, this third offering in the offbeat look at the world of ghouls and monsters doesn’t come close to having the same zing as the first or second offering.
It’s fun, and director Genndy Tartakovsky knows how to keep the action moving because of all his work in television animation, but the change of approach when dealing with Dracula coupled with the setting switch leaves the production just a little light on zing.
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” picks up with the getaway destination for creatures doing booming business. Things are going so well that a break is needed and the group books passage on the first monster cruise, which will take them from the Bermuda Triangle to the found city of Atlantis. The trip becomes a monster version of “The Love Boat” as Dracula does what he has thought was impossible: He falls in love again. The problem is she’s the last in the long line of Van Helsings, who have made it their life’s work to kill Dracula.
The most enjoyable part of the first two films was how every nerve in Dracula’s batty body was stretched to the limit by being a single father and grandfather. In “Hotel Transylvania,” the problem was that a human who had found the spa for the supernatural fell in love with Dracula’s daughter, Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez). The follow-up film had Dracula and his buddies trying to bring out the monster in his halfhuman, half-vampire grandson as a way of keeping Mavis from leaving the hotel.
Seeing Dracula flabbergasted makes for plenty of fun because Sandler has a way of making his voice sound both commanding and confused. It’s not quite the same when his emotional confusion comes from Dracula falling in love with the captain of the cruise ship.
That being said, “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” doesn’t suck. It is a visual splendor, from the fun way the creatures are portrayed to the pacing. Keeping Tartakovsky as director of all three films creates a fluid sense of comedy and look.
Because he has worked on so many different television projects, from “2 Stupid Dogs” to “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” Tartakovsky understands how to handle anything from animated slapstick comedy to action sequences. If you are a fan of Tartakovsky’s “Dexter’s Laboratory,” it will be obvious the inspiration for Ericka comes from the wildly silly and charmingly annoying character of Dee Dee.
The best examples of both can be seen in the sequences dealing with the werewolf couple of Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and Wanda (Molly Shannon). The parents of a continuously growing pack is a sight gag that always works, plus it features the most energy of any of the monstrous characters. The fact the world-weary couple get a break from their children is both funny and a nice wink to the parents in the audience.
It would have been nice if “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” had the same zing as past efforts. But, there’s never a love as zingfilled as the first, and it happening a second time is amazing. The third time is not quite the charmer as the others, but still offers enough laughs to keep kids plus their mummys and daddies entertained.
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG for action scenes, rude humor. Running time: 97 minutes.
Actors providing the voices for the film “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” include, from left, Mel Brooks as Vlad, Keegan-Michael Key as Murray, Adam Sandler as Drac, Selena Gomez as Mavis, Kevin James as Frank and Fran Drescher as Eunice.