Film Review: ‘Skyscraper’: China Is Sneaking Up on Hollywood
Dwayne Johnson stole my acting career. Twenty years ago, not a day went by without some kid running up to me and shouting, “Could you beat Hulk Hogan??” I’d play along and shout back, “Yeah!!” And some little 6-year-old would clench his fists and holler, “No way, man!!!!!”
I’d pass a table of teenage black and Puerto Rican girls at McDonald’s: “Hey baby, anybody ever tell you, you look like The Rock?!” Me: “Yesssss.” For a time, I thought maybe I should pitch Dwayne a script, wherein he was “The Rock” and I was “Mini-Rock.” True story.
Of the ‘Die Hard’ Genre
“Skyscraper” is “Die Hard” in “The Towering Inferno,” and it’s basically just, well, dreadful. However, I sat at the press screening and watched some of the snobbiest film critics on the planet sitting on the edge of their seats. They were gripped. So, as terrible as it is, it does its job of offering a serviceable, summer-blockbuster piece of escapist fare, with air-conditioning.
I’m all for some mindless entertainment if it’s got some decent values. I mean, here’s Mr. Johnson playing a man who’s going to save his family from a burning building no matter what, and he’s not even a fireman. What’s not to like? It’s good fun.
What helps is to enjoy the utterly nonsensical situations as such. There was much laughter in the theater at its ridiculousness, but not in the mean-spirited way there often is with New York’s elite film critic community. Dwayne Johnson’s too likable a guy for that.
Will Sawyer (Johnson), a former SWAT team operator, lost a leg in a hostage rescue op. Now he’s a security consultant, and through a team buddy (it’s who you know), he lands a gig testing the security systems of a massive Hong Kong skyscraper. Tallest building ever built! Three times the height of the Empire State Building! It’s called the Pearl, due to a spherical structure near its apex.
Looking like a DNA double helix, it boasts a 30-story park, and giant wind turbines that make the entire building self-sustaining. What’s in the pearl-shaped thingie? Zhao (Chin Han), a Chinese version of pre-presidential Donald Trump, demonstrates a dizzying field of retractable, high-definition monitors therein, calling the structure “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” which is just an excuse for the movie to re-create the hall-of-mirrors fight scene from Bruce Lee’s 1973 movie “Enter the Dragon.”
Who are the antagonists? They sound Russian, and they override and commandeer the Pearl’s fire-protection systems, lock all the doors, and start a conflagration on floor 95, while Will’s wife (Neve Campbell) and their kids are vacationing in this not-yet-open-for-business residential portion of the building.
Annnnd the Laughing Starts
Will is not the kind of lily-livered man who would let something like a prosthetic leg stop him from climbing up a giant construction crane faster than you can say, well, “prosthetic limb.” He climbs the crane equivalent of the Empire State Building in 20 seconds flat.
He jumps into the control cab and, being (apparently) a certified crane operator (maybe that was part of his SWAT training?), utilizes the crane’s massive hook to smash a hole in the Pearl. And, with the Chinese fuzz hot on his heels, he makes an Olympic-record-setting long jump into said smashed hole. Trust me; it’s a Special Olympics record. Because he has the prosthetic leg. If it was the regular Olympics, it would warrant, like, 68 gold medals, and you’d never hear the name Michael Phelps again.
Suffice it to say, there are many, many instances of this sort of thing, along with numerous duct tape jokes, which may or may not be a tribute to the rock-climbing community (since this is, ahem, a Rock climbing-movie) for whom duct tape is a religious artifact.
Meanwhile, on the inside, Will’s wife is holding it together, escaping bad guys, and dealing with her son’s ever-present asthma wheezing.
Up on the 220th floor, Zhao’s locked himself in the Pearl with the building’s ultimate, master key-like, hand-held couch-remote. The bad guys want that. And since Will knows locks and security, they figure they can get what they want if they get a hold of what Will wants, and so they kidnap his kids.
As mentioned, if you wanted to mean-spiritedly eviscerate this movie, you easily could, but you just don’t want to because it’s nice to see nice things happen for Dwayne because he’s such a nice man, but also because the film’s genuinely tension-filled.
China, on the Other Hand
A Hollywood takeover by China is currently in progress. The siege is on. Here’s a Dwayne Johnson vehicle, set in Hong Kong, with a Chinese co-star, with Neve Campbell speaking some Mandarin, lots of Mandarin spoken by Chinese police and Chinese TV anchors (with subtitles), and lots of Chinese crowds (replete with surgical face masks) watching Johnson climb a giant Chinese skyscraper.
For decades, America’s most influential exports were movies and music. If China gets any more of its fingerprints on American movies, our best export is going to run the risk of becoming what “Made in China” used to mean 30 years ago: cheap and poorly made.
Just about everything “American” gets made over there now—including Harley-Davidson accessories—so the quality has improved, but still; it’s wince-making to see our quintessential export start to lose authenticity and integrity.
Furthermore, with China’s notorious record of human rights abuses, its known thievery of Western technology via a vast spy network, and its being long acknowledged for its dismal ranking in environmental pollution, they’ve got an image badly in need of whitewashing. They’re starting to use America’s movie stars as big whitewashing paintbrushes.
“Skyscraper” is not your funny Dwayne Johnson, trailing Rock-isms, such as “Can you smelllllll what The Rock is cookin’?” No. This is Dwayne getting dangerously close to wanting to be taken seriously as an actor. And if he even thinks about trying that, I’m going to get heavily film-critic snobbish, and put the total smackdown on his 3,000-pound-squatting behind. I didn’t do classical acting training and spend 20 years in top New York acting classes just to get swept into obscurity by this behemoth, Maori-tatted, exceptionally nice, professional wrestling version of me.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Release Date: July 13
Rated 2.5 stars out of 5