Director Rawson Marshall Thurber describes the film as a love letter to Die Hard and action films from his upbringing. (Supplied: Universal Studios)
Dwayne Johnson dabbles in some middle age self-doubt in his latest movie, set inside a 225-storey tower in Hong Kong.
The hulking, muscle-bound actor is known for bringing slapstick smarts to comedy action films (google him bouncing berries off his gigantic pecs in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), but he plays an amputee in a decidedly more sullen mood here.
He’s a retired cop who once led hostage rescue missions, until a botched job ended in multiple casualties and lost him a leg.
He’s never forgiven himself.
Taiwanese actor Hannah Quinlivan plays an assassin in her Hollywood debut. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)
On his first day as a security consultant in the world’s tallest building, however, he gets a shot at redemption when a group of heavily armed psychos sets the tower alight, trapping its reclusive billionaire owner (Chin Han) in a hi-tech penthouse suite, and Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and two children in their mid-level apartment.
Johnson goes from vulnerable dad to rampaging papa bear as he races against the clock to avert tragedy, at one point even turning his prosthetic limb into a life-saving prop.
Burj Khalifa architect Adrian Smith consulted on the design of the film’s fictional skyscraper The Pearl. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)
There’s the DNA of mid-70s disaster classics like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno in every pixel, but Skyscraper is more homage than daring reinvention.
It does what it says on the tin: there are improbable leaps onto narrow ledges and fire roaring up lift shafts.
There’s gunplay and wrestling, too, and at least a couple of interesting villains: a beautiful female assassin played by Australian Taiwanese actor and model Hannah Quinlivan and a cold-blooded mercenary played by rugged Danish actor Roland Møller (Land of Mine), who’s the mastermind of the operation.
Unfortunately, writer director Rawson Marshall Thurber does Møller a disservice by failing to carve out a more memorable role for him, and in a way this flaw is emblematic of the film itself.
Real-life amputee US war veterans inspired Dwayne Johnson’s character in the film. (Supplied: Universal Pictures)
The ingredients are there, but the execution is often uninspired.
From the Hong Kong setting, with its secondary characters who remind you of cops in John Woo thrillers, to the architectural centrepiece itself, with its 30-storey atrium, Skyscraper undersells its many dimensions.
Certainly it doesn’t refresh the disaster movie genre like its late-80s predecessor Die Hard. Even with half a leg, Johnson is not as memorable leaping from a crane to the skyscraper as Bruce Willis is walking barefoot across broken glass.
It’s not Johnson’s fault — his charisma is one of the film’s saving graces, but his attempt to delve deeper into the story’s emotional layers is thwarted by a filmmaking approach intent on moving things along and keeping it simple.
The consequence is a film that’s only serviceable. On the right day that can be enough, but to quote Die Hard, the film is less yippee-ki-yay, more yippee-ki-no.