[Screen It]


(2018) (Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell) (PG-13)

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Action: A military veteran turned security consultant -- who has a lower leg prosthesis due to a botched hostage situation back when he was an FBI agent -- tries to save his family from criminals who've set the world's tallest skyscraper on fire in hopes of getting to its billionaire owner.
In the past, war veteran Will Sawyer (DWAYNE JOHNSON) was a successful FBI hostage negotiator. But then an incident went sideways, he lost his hostages, some members of his team, and his left leg below the knee. But a few good things came out of that, mainly in the form of Sarah (NEVE CAMPBELL), the naval surgeon who saved his life and then became his wife, and their twin 8-year-old children, Georgia (McKENNA ROBERTS) and Henry (NOAH COTTRELL).

Fitted with a prosthesis, Will has since given up field work and makes a living as a corporate security consultant. And with the help of his former colleague, Ben (PABLO SCHREIBER), he's landed a huge fish in the form of software tycoon Zhao Long Ji (CHIN HAN). He's built the world's tallest and most advanced skyscraper, The Pearl, along the banks of a river in Hong Kong, and needs a security assessment in order to get the 225 story building insured.

Will travels there with his family and meets Zhao; his personal-security detail chief, Ajani Okeke (ADRIAN HOLMES); as well as Ben who works as The Pearl's head of security; and insurance adjustor Mr. Pierce (NOAH TAYLOR) who all wait for Will's blessing after he takes a look at the skyscraper's various redundant safety systems, including an off-site facility.

What he's not anticipating, however, is mercenary Kores Botha (ROLAND MOLLER) who arrives with a group of criminals -- including assassin Xia (HANNAH QUINLIVAN) -- and sets fire to the building's 96th floor, all in hopes of getting access to Zhao who has potentially damaging information about Botha. When Will ends up accidentally killing one of the bad guys off-site, he ends up wanted by Inspector Wu (BYRON MANN) and the rest of the Hong Kong police. But he knows he must get back inside the now locked-down and on-fire building in order to save his family from both the criminals and the fire.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Some of my more high-brow critic friends might heartily disagree with the following, but I truly believe it's nearly as difficult to make a great guilty pleasure movie as it is to create an Oscar-winning one. Yes, there have been plenty of movies earmarked to grab an Academy award only to have one or more things go wrong and thus quickly fall from sure-fire award contender to forgettable misfire.

At the same time, however, there have been just as many -- and perhaps more -- action movies, comedies and such that purposefully tried to go for mindless (and thus guilty pleasure based) entertainment and likewise missed. And that's because there's a razor edge fine line between something that viewers will willingly and happily go along for the ride with, and an offering that miscalculates or mishandles such material and ends up insulting and dumb.

Enter "Skyscraper," an action film that's clearly not going anywhere near Oscar territory and instead obviously is playing entirely in the realm of guilty "pleasure-dom." Simply watching the trailers and seeing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson leaping from a crane over to a lit-up skyscraper to save his family makes one think this is either "The Towering Inferno" with Steve McQueen's fire chief discovering his family is inside the Glass Tower or "Die Hard" where Bruce Willis' NYC cop must contend with Hans Gruber also being a raging pyromaniac. Or some combination of the two thereof.

Interestingly enough, "The Towering Inferno" was nominated for eight Oscars (including Best Picture) while "Die Hard" is widely acknowledged as one of the best action films ever made. Having just sat through "Skyscraper," I'm going to hedge my bets and say that a repeat of either the former's acclaim or the latter's cinematic status isn't in the cards for this offering.

But if you enjoyed Mr. Johnson flexing his muscles to save the day in the 2015 disaster flick "San Andreas," you might have a similar reaction to the physics-bending antics on display here. In this flick (which, shock of all shocks, is not a remake of the 1996 Anna Nicole Smith straight-to-video film of the same name), the highly charismatic actor plays Will, a war veteran and former FBI hostage rescue team leader who lost the lower half of one leg while attempting to diffuse a tense situation, which is how he met his future wife (played by Neve Campbell) who saved his life.

Now hitched and with twins, he heads off with the family for "The Pearl," a luxury Hong Kong high-rise owned by billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Not only is it new, but it's also quite tall, so much so that it would give the Burj Khalifa in Dubai some skyscraper envy by exceeding its height by around eight-hundred feet. He's there to assess whether the building's upper floors meet security parameters so that Zhao can get insurance for that.

It seems like a simple job, but then former colleagues and others turn out to be in cahoots with a mercenary (Roland Moller) who's decided to set fire to the building in order to smoke out Zhao who has some potentially compromising intel about him. Briefly off-site, Will returns and must get into the now locked-down and ablaze high-rise to save his family from the fire, all while contending with the villains and doling out some Rock-sized comeuppance.

And like Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," Johnson's character spends enough time outside The Pearl to have acrophobes cowering in their seats. Yet, unlike Cruise who really was outside the Burj Khalifa 1,700 feet up (with safety harnesses that were digitally removed), The Rock's antics are obviously entirely CGI-based. That might not matter to some viewers (who are willingly going along for the dumb ride), but it is noticeable.

As is the lack of a brilliant villain. With the "Die Hard" similarities out in front, it isn't hard to recognize that Moller's Kores Botha baddie isn't even close to being in the same league as Alan Rickman's character in "DH." Granted, very few villainous movie characters are, but as I've always said the hero is only as good as the villain is bad and the one here isn't anything more than standard grade, B-movie quality.

Which also holds true for the rest of the villains, and the lack of a great score (there's nothing akin to Beethoven's Ninth that accompanied Hans Gruber and his interesting collection of criminal sidekicks). All of which steals a significant chunk of the dramatic conflict and high entertainment from the proceedings.

The fact that most everything here is the very definition of derivative (and makes the cardinal cinematic sin of constantly reminding you of a far better movie) doesn't help matters. But if you're simply looking for scenes of over-the-top and gravity & physics-defying action and The Rock (which is how he should be referred to in mindless films like this) doing death-defying stunts, you could do far worse than what's offered here. While nowhere near the best example of a guilty pleasure, "Skyscraper" is decent enough to rate as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 12, 2018 / Posted July 13, 2018

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