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updated: 7/13/2018 11:33 AM

Dwayne Johnson scales crazy challenges in action-packed 'Skyscraper'

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  • Former FBI agent and dedicated family man Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) goes full-throttle "Die Hard" in "Skyscraper."

    Former FBI agent and dedicated family man Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) goes full-throttle "Die Hard" in "Skyscraper."
    Courtesy of Universal Pictures

 
 

"Skyscraper" - ★ ★ ½

In the ludicrously trippy disaster movie "Skyscraper," Dwayne Johnson's ex-cop family man Will Sawyer climbs up about 100 stories to reach a Hong Kong construction crane in about three minutes.

With a prosthetic leg. (He loses the original during the opening scene.)

Nonetheless, he kicks the stuffing out of attackers, leaps from tall burning buildings in a single bound and effortlessly dodges the quick rotating blades of a giant turbine engine. Twice.

Granted, action movies share a grand history of subverting the laws of physics and limits of human endurance.

(Did anyone watching "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" actually believe Indy could survive an atomic bomb by climbing inside a refrigerator?)

"Skyscraper" contains the makings for a brilliantly executed parody of "Die Hard" meets "Towering Inferno" with a computerized update of the famous "hall of mirrors" climactic confrontation from "Enter the Dragon." But instead of having fun with action genre conventions (as "Ant-Man and the Wasp" so cleverly does), director/writer/producer Rawson Marshall Thurber's "Skyscraper" merely replicates them, leaving the Rock between himself and a hard place to sell its frequently engaging, yet sublimely ridiculous, set pieces with grimaces and smirks.

Johnson's Sawyer has been hired as a security consultant by wealthy Hong Kong businessman Zhao Long Ji (Singapore star Chin Han) to certify his new skyscraper, "The Pearl," to be the safest, tallest building on Earth, at three times the height of the Empire State Building.

But saboteurs led by villainous Kores Botha (Roland Møller, a vapid substitute for Alan Rickman's iconic "Die Hard" mastermind Hans Gruber) invade the Pearl and set fire to the 96th floor.

Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson play a wife and husband struggling to save their kids from a massive fire in "Skyscraper."
Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson play a wife and husband struggling to save their kids from a massive fire in "Skyscraper." - Courtesy of Universal Pictures

At the top of the 240-floor structure, Zhao Long Ji remains cool, knowing his elaborate safety systems will not permit the fire to spread.

He does not realize that Botha has taken control of the Pearl's computers and turned the building's energy-generating turbines into a virtual blast furnace, sending fire through the structure's core.

Wouldn't you know, Sawyer's conveniently military-trained surgeon wife (Neve Campbell) and their kids (Noah Cottrell and McKenna Roberts) just became the first tenants to move into the residential portion of the Pearl above the 96th floor.

Strapped with sophomoric and perfunctory dialogue ("I gotta get you guys outta this building!") Johnson commits admirably to a father's obligation to protect his family.

But Thurber, lacking the creative checks and balances between separate producers, directors and writers, provides him with limited dramatic options.

Thurber employs obvious, telegraphed double-crosses and so many references to "Die Hard" that he might want to cite its writers in the credits.

The herculean former pro-wrestler Johnson has become such an unstoppable force of nature in the movies that viewers felt actually sorry for the giant creatures up against him in "Rampage."

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) demonstrates his Spider-Man-like abilities in the derivative disaster film "Skyscraper."
Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) demonstrates his Spider-Man-like abilities in the derivative disaster film "Skyscraper." - Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Wisely, Thurber sought to cast Johnson's hero as a sympathetic underdog by giving him a prosthetic leg, a metal shard embedded in his left shoulder, and stream-of-consciousness ramblings so we know how he feels.

But what does that matter if Will Sawyer still possesses the Spider-Man-like abilities to defy gravity, scamper up skyscrapers and bounce back from physical punishment with a resilience that the Energizer Bunny would envy?

• • •

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated PG-13 for language and violence. 103 minutes

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