The Movie Guru: Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis in ‘Skyscraper’
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language.
Written and directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts, Roland Moller, Byron Mann and more.
Guru’s Grade: Two and a half stars.
Be true to yourself.
It’s good advice for both movies and life, but writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber didn’t seem to get that memo. His “Skyscraper” stumbles badly every time it tries to copy “Die Hard,” echoing specific lines and scenes that only highlight how much better the other movie is. When it stops trying so hard, however, the latest star turn by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a flawed but entertaining romp that even manages a few genuinely clever moments. It’s not the greatest action movie in the world, but it’s easier to forgive that when it stops trying to convince us that it is.
The Rock as an Average Joe?
In this one, a convoluted series of events leads Johnson’s character into being a temporary security consultant for what is apparently the tallest building in the world. Due to another convoluted series of events that were instantly obvious the moment one particular character stepped onto the screen, the super-tall building ends up on fire and he has to get inside in order to get his family back out. Also, there are terrorists and a number of improbably-placed news cameras filming all this for the crowd below.
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The first half hour of the movie is the roughest, because this is where it tries to bring in serious, deep chunks of backstory and complicated conspiracy machinations. It fails at almost every point, broadcasting everything with the kind of wooden dialogue and painfully obvious simplicity I’ve come to expect out of children’s coloring books. The so-called plot-twists are carried along through a healthy dose of forced cluelessness on Johnson’s part, which only makes it that much more annoying.
The only thing as annoying are the heavy, obvious references to “Die Hard.” As if the entire concept isn’t enough, then the movie shoe-horns in several moments clearly meant as direct homages (or copies) to the original. Each and every one of them are annoying, because they fall so short of the cleverness and emotional impact of the scenes they’re trying to evoke.
When it forgets about “Die Hard,” however, it has a much better time of things. There’s a nice twist at the end that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other action movie, and a minor character actually behaves pretty intelligently during his brief time onscreen. There are also some solidly epic action scenes, both with the family trying to escape the fire and Johnson doing ridiculous things on construction equipment and along the outside of the super building.
Johnson himself is as pleasant to watch as always, imbuing his character with a healthy dose of sheer likeability. Normally, his impressive physique would only be a bonus for action sequences, but here it backfires when the movie tries to force him into the “imperiled average Joe” role that Bruce Willis did so well in “Die Hard.” Given who he is, it’s just not believable.
Johnson, like the movie, is at his best when he just gets to be himself.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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