There are few surprises delivered in “Skyscraper,” an entertaining if middlebrow thriller whose very name – blandly descriptive, generic – seems to advertise its fungibility.
Take two cups of “The Towering Inferno,” half a pound of “Die Hard” (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you) and stir in every Dwayne Johnson action movie ever made, until the consistency of cornmeal. Place on the middle rack of a 3,000-foot Hong Kong high-rise that’s on fire, courtesy of a bad guy with an indeterminate foreign accent, natch, and sprinkle generously with clichés. Bake until just underdone.
Voilá: a movie that will satisfy your deepest craving for eye candy without a shred of nourishment. “Skyscraper” is dumb summer fun.
What? You were expecting, maybe, an Oscar nominee in July?
From the moment that we meet the nice guy who almost immediately reveals himself to be bad, to the moment that gun-toting villains introduce themselves by saying, with transparent falsehood, “It’s OK, we’re the good guys, you’re safe,” “Skyscraper” is exactly what we all know it to be, and no more: a silly, forgettable yet moderately watchable showcase for derring-do and special effects.
Chief among those effects is Johnson himself, whose charisma burns like a force of nature. As Will Sawyer, a married father of two who loses a leg in the violent prologue that opens the film, and who must rescue his family from the world’s tallest building after arsonists set it on fire, Johnson keeps the film from flagging, even at its most predictable. (The aptly named Will, an FBI hostage rescue team leader turned building security consultant, wears a fake leg throughout the film, making his tenacity more impressive. The prosthesis both bedevils him and, later, comes in unexpectedly handy, during one of many hair-raising, if familiar, set pieces.)
Of course, when thugs break into the command center that controls the building’s fire-suppression systems, easily overriding the computer safeguards, the main hacker (Matt O’Leary) will announce, “I’m in.” And of course there will be a scene where Will, grimacing, will pull out a piece of jagged metal that has become embedded in his flesh during a particularly nerve-racking stunt. Bonus points to writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence”), for at least giving Johnson this funny line, delivered as Will binds up his injuries with unorthodox first aid supplies: “If you can’t fix it with duct tape, then you ain’t using enough duct tape.”
OK, so “Yippee-ki-yay” it ain’t. Unlike “Die Hard,” “Skyscraper” is not destined to become a cult hit.
Oddly, duct tape comes up more than once, making one wonder whether 3M paid for product placement here. “Skyscraper” is the kind of movie where nothing is introduced randomly. When, early in the film, the skycraper’s owner (Byron Mann) shows off some weirdly specific high-tech features of his building, you can bet that one of those high-tech features will play an important role later. And it does, even if it’s in the context of a scene that is a clear rip-off of – excuse me, homage to – Orson Welles’ “The Lady from Shanghai.”
Despite its flaws, “Skyscraper” avoids the worst offenses of some of Johnson’s most preposterous starring vehicles. (I’m looking at you, “San Andreas.”) The film’s central stunt – depicted on the poster and in the trailer – in which Will attempts to jump from the arm of a wobbly tower crane to the interior of the burning building, is at once stomach-churning and viscerally satisfying. It’s so well staged that, despite its patent absurdity, you may find yourself wanting to break out in cheers, along with the on-screen crowd of gawkers that gathers in the street below the building, as you watch Will clamber around, as one character describes the flaming high-rise, “a $6.5 billion chimney.”
Nor is “Skyscraper” totally devoid of wonder. The climax contains a notably satisfying, if small, twist. But the biggest element of the unforeseen? “Skyscraper” – the movie, that is, not the building – never goes up in smoke.