Skyscraper (***) lacks nuance, but not acting energy

Skyscraper

Skyscraper – 2018

Written and Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan

Rawson Marshall Thurber has maybe two half decent films on his resume. Dodgeball is an offbeat star vehicle that works for Vaughan and Stiller. Central Intelligence does the same in a more or less comedy action way for Johnson and Kevin Hart. He’s also got We’re Not The Millers in his history. The reasons for his success thus far seem tied more to who he has working in his films more than what he’s added to them. Once more this time, the film and actors succeed in spite of his script.

The premise is a variation on Die Hard. The building is much bigger. The things that can go wrong are much neater. This just means that the bad guys need to do more leg work to make disaster strike.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Die Hard story, after the nineties seemed to have them in every other film. Seeing one in a building seems retro by now.

Johnson plays Will Sawyer, who at the story’s beginning is a generalized rescue guy. He loses his foot in one of those rescue attempts. 10 years later, he’s married to the doctor (Campbell) with two kids. He’s got a burgeoning security company making a big pitch to Ji (Han) who is the owner of The Pearl, which is the largest building in the world.

On the verge of opening, they need one last security inspection. For reasons of the plot, Sawyer’s family has been given living quarters on the 96th floor of the building and Will is given the MacGuffin that is required to tie all of the security together. There is no back up. Sounds pretty solid from here.

In an unfortunate twist, his rescue team buddy, Ben, also works for Ji. The reason its bad news for Will is that he’s played by Pablo Schreiber. A better script would have played against Schreiber’s typecast, or at the very least made it last a little longer before the inevitable. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I see a buddy film where Johnson and Schreiber work together against the bad guys. Thurber is not trying to reinvent the wheel or push against convention. He’s just remaking Die Hard…in a newer building.

The antagonists (Møller and Quinlevan) look cool, but they are given nothing in the way of dialogue. There is no irony. No savoring. No real human features. Just choke, burn, kick, shoot and move on to the next scene. Don’t forget to give exposition in the most inept way possible.

The effects are actually pretty good. Things look good, especially on the big screen. Little things, like seeing Johnson stagger slowly down stairs ring true as one who has spent the last half-year in a crow boot. Angles and fighting on one leg is hard, and they take the time to make that apparent. Then there are the times when he almost slips and falls while losing his grip…three times to my count. Same hand slips each time. Not to mention the absolutely insane ignorance of things like gravity.

I really like Johnson. He does the best he can with his limited emoting skills here. One can really picture him trying his best to imagine that there is anything that might be a challenge for him to do with his remarkable physique. He is definitely not a problem in the film. He could have used some help, though. And not just a short comic. Just someone who has a little nuance and can handle him or herself in a fight.

Speaking of help, it is so nice to see Neve Campbell back again. She looks great and she puts humanity into every scene. She gives a believable doctor who can kick some wretch in the face if she needs to and figure out how to reset a system on the fly to boot. I dearly wish I could see her in movies more often. If you want an actress who aged well without any help, I give you Sidney Prescott.

Thurber’s limit for character seems to stop with the Sawyer family. Byron Mann spends much of the film looking like the guy who kicked ass in other films, but just stands around waiting here. Johnson is an upgrade from playing second banana in Steven Segal direct to video fare, but it sure would have been nice to see him do more than look concerned and be the first to give the protagonist some credit for being the good guy.

Skyscraper-trailer-700x300

Overall, this is much like every Johnson film. There are as many glaring problems as there are pluses. I will count this as a net win, for the hardest working man in show biz and his beautiful cinematic bride.

(*** out of *****)

 

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