For a re­view of “Skyscraper,”

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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.

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