“SKYSCRAPER” — 2½ stars — Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts; PG-13 (sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language); in general release
“Skyscraper” really wants to be “Die Hard.” “Skyscraper” is not “Die Hard.”
It definitely has its moments, but sadly, Rawson Marshall Thurber’s action thriller about a man who storms a burning skyscraper to save his family from gun-wielding bad guys is too preposterous and self-serious for its own good.
Still, if you’re going to attempt a soft reboot of “Die Hard" (mixed with a little "Towering Inferno"), Dwayne Johnson isn’t a bad choice to step into the celebrated shoes of John McClane. Johnson plays Will Sawyer, an ex-FBI agent called to do a safety evaluation for the world’s tallest building.
More than 200 stories high, the Pearl stretches 3,500 feet in the air over Hong Kong. The new building's bottom half is a glorified mall and office complex, the top half is luxury condos, and a pair of wind turbines drive the whole thing. There’s also some kind of “Star Trek” holodeck at the top, but its only function seems to be providing the film an interesting third-act set piece.
The Pearl’s egomaniac builder Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) invites Sawyer, his former Afghanistan-touring surgeon wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children to stay in the building while Sawyer does his assessment. Unfortunately, their calendar lines up with a crime syndicate extortionist (Roland Moller) who raids the building, disarms its safety systems and sets the 96th floor on fire.
When this all goes down, Sawyer is outside the building with his old FBI hostage team buddy (Pablo Schreiber), which is why before he can face down the bad guys and save his family, he must free climb the 90-story construction crane next door to the Pearl and leap across.
Did I mention Sawyer has a prosthetic leg? I might have forgotten to mention that.
Sawyer’s absurd crane climb is just one in a ridiculous line of stunts that would work a lot better if “Skyscraper” had a little of the “Fast and Furious” franchise’s knowing charm. The best action movies toe that delicate line of implausibility with just enough grace, getting you to buy into what’s happening (think “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or more appropriately for this review, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”). “Skyscraper’s” stunts are just a hair too much — even with "The Rock" at the helm.
That being said, without Johnson, “Skyscraper” would be a lot worse. Once again, we see "The Rock" can make just about anything better. But Thurber seems to have Johnson’s best charms on a leash, and as it stands, Campbell’s Sarah is the best surprise of the movie, constantly using her military skills to surprise the low expectations of everyone around her.
Speaking of military skills, “Skyscraper’s” over-the-top loony tunes action may only be matched by its constant violence. Technically it comes in by PG-13 standards, but that’s only thanks to some quick cutaways and creative angles. Parents may be surprised by this one.
“Skyscraper” isn’t the first action movie to ape the “Die Hard” formula, but like those others, the comparisons have a way of highlighting the pretenders’ shortcomings. With a little fine-tuning and a sharper sense of humor, “Skyscraper” could be an escapist summer nightlight. As is, it’s more likely to inspire an escape to a better movie.
“Skyscraper” is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language; running time: 102 minutes.