In Downtown Seattle, there’s a domed glass structure that looks like a 1950s Golden Age of Futurism projection of our time. A triptych of balls, the Amazon Spheres provide a delightful looking respite from the high-rise steel jungle, an indoor botanical garden/none-too-subtle genital compensation contest winner for the richest man in the world, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Construction began in 2015 and concluded earlier this year and despite this new beacon of glass and greenery, plopped squarely in the midst of the city, access is strictly restricted for public use. It’s a verdant beacon of exclusivity and class status. We must watch from outside. Often in the cold or rain. I think I might relish seeing it aflame.
This is all a roundabout way of talking about Skyscraper, the high-octane action-thriller written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and starring the only man on Earth who’s cool enough to insist on being called Dwayne (Johnson) rather than his old wrestling moniker “The Rock”. Skyscraper is a movie where we’re implicitly meant to side with a Hong Kong mega-billionaire, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who has constructed the world’s tallest tower, an also-none-too-subtle entry to the genital compensation contest to rival Bezo’s glossy domes. This confluence of upscale consumerism and high-class residences is avarice given structure – it’s the most highly safeguarded and fire resistant-building on Earth but, for some inconceivable reason, there’s also code written into the OS that can shut down all means of firefighting.
So – of course – cue a fire. Well, terrorists causing said fire rather. Johnson is Will Sawyer, a once FBI Hostage Rescue team leader, who has been hired as an independent contractor at The Pearl, now in Hong Kong with his family to assess the building’s security measures to give Ji and his towering hard on, er, building, a meaty “A for Approved” for insurance purposes. But when Will finds himself wrapped up in a plot to incinerate the unincineratable building – with his family (including an ass-kicking Neve Campbell) trapped inside the burning inferno – he must fight both the local police and underground terror cells before jumping his way into the flaming structurus erectus.
Skyscraper is no doubt a stupid movie. It’s big and loud and mindless but it is singularly entertaining, overloaded with white-knuckle beats of dangling from various ledges; a monster of plagiarized blockbuster stupidity that’s duct taped together by the sheer will of Dwayne Johnson and his at-times oafish watchability. Thurber’s script is beyond laughable, a dazed mishmash of not-quite-ridiculous-enough one-liners and faux-badassery. Beyond a girth of hackneyed exposition, Thurber’s is a script that never quite reaches the over-the-top level of self-awareness that you should get with a batshit action movie like Skyscraper, particularly in the never-clever dialogue and overly-earnest heroism hoorah (there are so many mentions of “family” you might think you’re in another Fast and Furious joint).
If you expect Skyscrapper to ever rise above a B-grade Die Hard rip off, you’re quite simply out of luck, and this is especially apparent in the dime-a-dozen, vaguely Eastern European baddies (who can’t hold a candle to Alan Rickman’s iconic Hans Gruber). It’s a mix of disaster survival movie and conspiratorial action thriller where the former works way better than the undercooked ladder and the less attention paid to plot, the more one may enjoy the damn thing. To its credit though, the movie rarely dead-ends, offering a compelling-enough twist every 20-odd minutes, measuring in a bit of 24-era showmanship to its silly telling, that keeps the movie humming along and rarely dull.
Thurber has carved out a niche of action-tinged comedy since the early 2000s, delivering playful, forgettable fare like We’re The Millers and Central Intelligence and even the once highly-regarded Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (a might-have-been mid-2000s comedy classic that just didn’t have the staying power) but with Skyscraper, he leaves pure comedy by the wayside, making room for ridiculous situations and Rock-y eyebrow cocks to raise the comic relief quotient. There are few moments that don’t suspend disbelief – Will leaping an impossible parabola; a lol-able riff on Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’s Dubai stunt with, what else, duct tape; a Man With the Golden Gun-esque hall of mirrors shootout – but Skyscraper never goes quite far enough into the realm of ludicrous to be as intoxicatingly batty as something like XxX: Return of Xander Cage (a true modern masterpiece of stupidity). For a movie about the tallest structure on Earth, it’s still never quite over-the-top enough.
CONCLUSION: Big, dumb, get-the-job-done fun, ‘Skyscraper’ is both a testament to The Rock’s nigh-bottomless watchability and a litmus test for the depths of storytelling bankruptcy he’s willing to participate in. Both severely stupid and never-quite-stupid-enough, ‘Skyscraper’ fails to get off the ground floor.