The Rock leaps from burn­ing build­ings... again

Sunday Times - - Contents - Yolisa Mkele Skyscraper is on cir­cuit ● L

If you lis­ten, you will hear ac­tors voic­ing fears about be­ing type­cast. It is usu­ally a burly chap known for play­ing ac­tion he­roes, who wants the world to see his act­ing chops. Hav­ing saved his on-screen fam­ily from many fic­tional dis­as­ters, this mus­cu­lar fel­low wants to show the world his emo­tional range ex­tends be­yond a quiet smoul­der and an im­per­vi­ous­ness to bul­lets. Let’s face it though, the view­ing pub­lic has no in­ter­est in watch­ing a fully-clothed Ja­son Mo­moa type show­ing his sen­si­tive side in an art­house re­boot of Romeo and Juliet. What we want is ac­tion, ex­plo­sions and good, old-fash­ioned mas­culin­ity.

No one un­der­stands this bet­ter than the world’s high­est­paid ac­tor, Dwayne “The Rock” John­son — and that is ex­actly why his lat­est film Skyscraper is so much fun.

Set in Hong Kong, Skyscraper is the story of a man’s mis­sion to save his fam­ily against all odds. That last sen­tence needs to be read in a dra­matic movie voice. The de­tails of this mis­sion are straight­for­ward. John­son’s char­ac­ter, an ex-elite tac­ti­cal mil­i­tary type, is hired by a reclu­sive bil­lion­aire to an­a­lyse se­cu­rity what­sits for a state-of-the-art skyscraper.

Some generic villains, one with the sur­name Botha, are not pleased with this build­ing and set it on fire. Pre­dictably John­son’s very nu­clear fam­ily is stuck in­side and hero­ism en­sues.

It’s easy for an even vaguely crit­i­cal eye to spot plot holes, lazy writ­ing and any num­ber of faults with this movie. There is also the very ob­vi­ous prob­lem that John­son has played more or less the same role for the past few years.

But none of this mat­ters.

Walk­ing into this movie ex­pect­ing any­thing cere­bral is like walk­ing into McDon­ald’s and ex­pect­ing to find a pleas­ant amuse-bouche on the menu. The prob­lem with amuse­bouche is that it re­quires a cer­tain type of palate, ac­cess to a par­tic­u­lar kind of re­fine­ment and spe­cific ease with culi­nary snob­bery. McDon­ald’s has far fewer bar­ri­ers to en­try.

This, then, is the McDon­ald’s of movies. All it re­quires to en­joy is to leave your brain at the ticket booth for safe­keep­ing. If you in­sist on ap­ply­ing se­ri­ous thought to Dwayne John­son and his lat­est ren­di­tion of Dwayne John­son: Manly Ac­tion Hero, then per­haps that cog­ni­tive en­ergy should be di­rected at tropes, type­cast­ing and the pos­i­tive role they play in our cin­e­matic lives.

We tend to look down our noses at clichés. It is cool to be re­fined and mildly snobby, to look at cer­tain types of film as not worth our time or money. But not only are they worth our time and money, we throw both at for­mu­laic, trite movies.

A big chunk of the rea­son why John­son gets paid more than any ac­tor in the world is be­cause two of his last five movies have come close to, or sur­passed, the bil­lion-dol­lar mark at the box of­fice. Crit­ics may be unim­pressed with his work but au­di­ences clearly are not.

Things like orig­i­nal­ity, nu­anced sto­ry­telling and all that other malarkey re­quire us to en­gage our brains. Peo­ple don’t al­ways have time for that and this is a good thing.

The Zu­mas are in court, World Cup matches keep end­ing in penal­ties and your boss is most likely an a**hole. For­mu­ladriven movies are a fun and safe space to throw a mid­dle fin­ger up at all of that and just spend 100 min­utes watch­ing a man leap­ing into flaming build­ings be­cause no emer­gency ser­vices are a match for his badassery.

John­son un­der­stands this fea­ture of hu­man psy­chol­ogy and has opted to take on the thank­less role of Chief Opi­ate of the Masses. He’s damn good at it. If you don’t be­lieve me, wait till Skyscraper’s box-of­fice num­bers come in.

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