Just as Liam Neeson has become cinema’s go-to man when it comes to rescuing family members, passengers etc from terrorists, Dwayne Johnson seems lately to have cornered the market in saving the day during larger-scale catastrophes. He did it recently in San Andreas, the earthquake flick, and now he’s back in this disaster-flavored action thriller, which gives a big nod to both Towering Inferno and Die Hard.
By Debbie Stowe
Boy-wonder financier Zhao (Chin Han) has built the tallest skyscraper in the world in Hong Kong. Called the Pearl, it’s absolutely fireproof. Of course it is.
Rather than entrust security for this swanky monolith to a large and established firm, the financier decides to hire Just One Man. That man is Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), who used to be a hostage-rescuing guy for the FBI, until a tragic incident in which he Made the Wrong Call resulted in an explosion that left him with a prosthetic leg.
Will is now a bitter man who takes out his frustrations on his wife and children… Just kidding, silly! He’s a loving husband and father who engages in sweet-natured flirtatious banter with his wife (Neve Campbell) and has cutesy “daddy loves you” routines with his two gorgeous little moppets (a boy and a girl, of course).
So off go the Sawyers to Hong Kong for Will to do his thing for the Pearl. It’s going to be a cakewalk because the building’s security system is so well designed, right? But what’s this? There are some dodgy guys hanging around – they have non-American accents and they make unconvincing jokes, so there must be an evil plan afoot.
From this point on, we all know the drill. We know what’s going to happen, we know who’s going to be imperiled (unless, in an unpredicted plot twist, Mrs Sawyer and the little ‘uns spend the day shopping for holiday souvenirs in Wan Chai) and we know how it’s going to end. It’s just a question of how much fun, surprise and panache the filmmakers can bring to a tried and tested formula, and whether they can sidestep the most tedious of the clichés.
Johnson’s presence is a plus – not for nothing is he busy sewing up the disaster movie market. While unlikely to trouble the Oscar committee any time soon, he manages to exude an everyman likeability/vulnerability, despite being built like a skyscraper himself.
And props to writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber for giving Mrs Sawyer (yep, you guessed it: she’s not off shopping in Wan Chai) a nice meaty role in proceedings, rather than just simpering, screaming and looking worried, as is so often the lot of wives of action heroes.
All the stunts are decently executed, and there are a few tense moments, particularly if you are prone to vertigo, as Johnson hangs improbably off the building (it’s not a spoiler – it’s on the film poster).
Also, the “MacGuffin” (the term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock for the plot device in thrillers that sets events in motion without necessarily making sense) is actually clever and memorable here.
This is more than can be said for much of the rest of the movie, which is fairly forgettable (aside from a sequence that looks like it’s been copied detail by detail from Die Hard). But while it’s in progress Skyscraper is diverting, and the final face-off also has a certain style.
It’s probably all enough to secure Johnson his next gig saving his wife and family from a future bunch of un-American bad guys. Or a tornado. Or whatever.
DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber
STARRING: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan
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