Click here for the flashback interview with Dwayne Johnson for THE GRIDIRON GANG.
Click here for the flashback interview with Neve Campbell for THE COMPANY
It is a mantra that I have repeated at least once a day for many, many years now. Technology is our friend, but it is not our >good< friend. While my invocation of that is generally limited to computers, pay-stations, and the notorious aggravations of the voice-mail maze, SKYSCRAPER, the latest action flick from Dwayne Johnson, takes it to a whole new level while also sending a love letter to the low-tech reliability, magic even, of duct tape.
More about that later.
For now, a consideration of this workmanlike approach to the disaster epic. Think THE TOWERING INFERNO meets DIE HARD (the original) with Johnson as Will Sawyer. He’s an ex-Marine, former FBI- hostage rescuer, and current owner of a small security consulting firm after the last FBI mission went wrong. He lost a leg, but as a result met the love of his life, Sarah (Neve Campbell), a Navy doctor with a great sense of humor, two tours of Afghanistan under her belt, and a minor in Far Eastern studies as part of her degree from Annapolis. That last is coming in handy now that they and their adorably spunky twins, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), are in Hong Kong where Will is doing a final security analysis for the tallest building in the world, The Pearl, a dandy of a skyscraper with its own wind-generated power and a mysterious sphere perched at its apex. Naturally, all of that will coming into play as Will, in the fine tradition of disaster movies, is about to have a very, very bad day.
It starts with being knifed in a bag-snatching. The thief was after the tablet that gives Will access to every security system in The Pearl, the one that will allow the villain of the piece (Roland Møller) to do things like turn off the fire extinguishing system after he sets a fire on the 98th floor. Alas, he didn’t count on two things. One, that Will’s wife and kids would be in the building when the fire started. Two, that Will isn’t going to let a little thing like a knife wound requiring stitches, 90-something floors, and certain death stop him from the daring rescue that we have all come to see.
Make no mistake, this is a standard-issue script. We are introduced to all the elements that will later figure into the action sequences, and then see the series of close-calls, serendipitous coincidences, and perfectly time cinematic moments of danger and resolution play out. There is even the time-honored comment from a minor character noting that nothing that’s happening is supposed to be possible. What makes it fun is The Rock. The man can sweep us along through even the most ridiculous tropes, and still make us cheer for him because we believe that while mere mortals could not swing on a grappling hook half-a-mile in the air into a burning building and not only live, but continue the fight, we believe that he could. Just like we believe that he is so attached to his wife and kids that he would want to try.
Throw in some de rigeur quips that are actually funny, and Will’s deep and abiding faith in the power of duct tape to get him through all manner of tight spots from first aid to free-climbing The Pearl, and what we have here is a good time at the movies. Never mind a few flubs such as the femme fatale who goes into full combat in dangly oversized earrings, and Will being able to understand instructions in Chinese after we’ve established he has exactly one phrase down, and it’s not the one to which he is responding. That’s because we also get a wonderfully laconic police inspector (Byron Mann) watching the action with a nice dose of irony to his conveniently expositional narration of events as viewed on his monitor, a suitably mysterious billionaire (Chin Han) who refuses to leave the masterpiece he’s built for reasons of his own, and a primer on the physics of aerodynamics that will probably not come in handy anytime soon for we mere mortals, but that is interesting to note in passing.
SKYSCRAPER answers the, ahem. burning question, what would happen if a one-legged Rock had to take down an amoral bad guy with a foreign accents while also avoiding being reduced to ash or an amorphous blob on the pavement. Much like his other forays into the disaster epic, it’s an answer worth spending two hours or so to see.