The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Skyscraper is like The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard, without being anywhere near as awesome as that sounds. Dwayne Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who retired after losing his leg during a mission. He now works assessing security for large buildings. He's hired to do this for “The Pearl,” a high-tech Hong Kong structure almost twice as large as the Burj Khalifa and three times the size of the Empire State Building. While doing the job, Will, his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their two children get to stay in a large suite high up.

Meanwhile, there are some bad guys with a grudge against the Pearl's billionaire owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). They set one floor on fire. It is, as you may have guessed, the exact same floor Sarah and the kids are on. Will has to confront both flames and foes in order to rescue them.

Big, crazy action movies are a regular part of many people's viewing diet. For one to properly work, it needs to firmly establish the “rules” right away. In the case of Skyscraper that would mean ensuring we know the geography of the building, the strengths and weaknesses of our hero, who the bad guys are, and what their motivation is for attacking the building.

None of those things happen sufficiently here, which only serves to make the film's inherent ludicrousness all the more glaring. We know the building is big and has a lot of different sections, but we don't know where one is in relation to another. Action therefore seems to take place at random locations. The bad guys are never properly introduced, so they don't possess a lot of menace. Reasons why they want to go after Zhao are not explained until the final third, thereby robbing Skyscraper of any good-vs-evil threat.

Will, meanwhile, is a generic Superman, capable of feats no normal person could ever do. His characterization marks one of the movie's biggest flaws. Look at the scene in Die Hard where John McClane nervously secures a fire hose, ties it around himself, and jumps off the building, eventually crashing through a window. That was just insane enough to seem real. Skyscraper, on the other hand, has Will climbing the side of a massive crane, making impossible jumps from dizzying heights, and dangling from the side of the building by one hand. He does these improbable things without batting an eye. Why not make his character vulnerable by giving him a fear of heights or something? Or scale back on the insanity so that his many predicaments are at least mildly plausible? When he's barely afraid of his circumstances, we aren't either.

If anything, Skyscraper should at least offer a few cheap thrills. Even on that count, it disappoints. The visual effects are not very good. They all have that annoying “digital haze,” a quality that makes them seem not clearly defined and artificial. As a result, it never feels as though Will is on the side of a real flaming building. It feels like Dwayne Johnson is acting in front of a green screen.

Skyscraper might have worked better if it had a sense of humor about the preposterous nature of its action scenes. It doesn't. The picture takes itself completely seriously. Johnson is always a likeable screen presence, and it's great to see Neve Campbell again. Beyond that, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence) has made what feels like a cinematic “product” designed to require little or no translation in the many countries where it will play.

What a disposable, forgettable piece of junk.

( 1/2 out of four)

Skyscraper is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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