FILM REVIEW – SKYSCRAPER. With Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Roland Møller, Byron Mann. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. 102 minutes.
In the late 1970s on the comedy series “SCTV,” John Candy and Joe Flaherty did a bit called “Farm Film Report” in which they reviewed the films of the day. Their highest praise was for movies that “blowed up real good.” They would have loved SKYSCRAPER.
Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose previous movies have been comedies like “Meet the Millers” and “Central Intelligence,” his new film puts the action front-and-center while allowing for some comic relief around the edges. In a prologue, we meet Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), who loses a leg during a SWAT team operation. However, he ends up marrying Sarah (Neve Campbell), the surgeon who saves him.
Jump ahead to the present. The Sawyers – now with two kids – have moved to Hong Kong to the world’s tallest building, because Will has been hired by Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the designer and owner of the building, to troubleshoot its security. However, the building will soon be under attack by Kores Botha (Roland Møller), who is targeting Zhao to obtain information connected to the criminal underworld.
In other words, don’t sweat the details. Combining elements of “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno,” the bulk of the movie has Will trying to break into the tower to rescue his family while explosive flames spread, and Botha and his minions focus on Zhao and the information he has. Don’t worry if you can’t follow the details. There won’t be a quiz, and the good guys and bad guys are readily apparent
What Thurber has done is created an entertaining summer action film. There are hair-raising stunts, plot twists, and action set pieces. Some of it is so ludicrous that at one point Will, about to risk his life in a truly outlandish setup, says, “This is stupid.” It doesn’t matter. You just go with the flow.
The reason this works is Dwayne Johnson. Thurber surrounds him with good actors – like Campbell and Han, a star in China – but then lets him play to his strengths. Make no mistake, Johnson is no Olivier or De Niro, but he is able to deftly play comedy and drama with his everyman persona. The former pro wrestler may be built like a tank, but he’s not just spitting out one-liners between throwing punches. His scenes as a father show an emotional depth we don’t often get from our action stars.
With so many actors in these sorts of films getting up there (even Tom Cruise is in his mid-50s), Johnson – at 46 – has come along at precisely the right time, bringing humor, a multi-cultural background, and an engaging screen presence to a genre that desperately needs all three. “Skyscraper” is, in the end, something to enjoy while munching popcorn and little more. It is, without question, a fun summer action movie.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.