Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

In the years since the success of 1988’s Die Hard, the phrase “Die Hard on a…” became shorthand for an action movie that takes place mostly within a single setting.  Speed was Die Hard on a bus, Under Siege was Die Hard on a battleship, Passenger 57 was Die Hard on a plane, etc.  Now that the original film is thirty years old, it seems as if we have come full circle as the new film Skyscraper returns the Die Hard formula back to its original setting: a tall building.

This is not just any tall building, though.  The fictional “Pearl” building in Hong Kong stands head and shoulders higher than any building currently in existence.  The bottom half of the building features businesses and has already been open to the public, but the residential upper half, as well as the mysterious spherical attraction at the top of the building, are still pending a final safety and security check.  Enter Dwayne Johnson as Will Sawyer, a former special agent who now runs his own security firm out of his garage following an accident that left him relying on the use of an artificial leg.  Sawyer is hired by the building’s proprietor to perform an outside security check and give the go-ahead for the opening of the building, and he and his family are given the honor of being the first to stay in one of the residential suites.

skyscraper insetWhen Sawyer is taken away from the building to check the status of the off-site security facility, a team of mercenaries assaults the building and sets off a flaming inferno on the middle floors which soon begins burning towards the top.  Their motivations are left unclear until the final act, but their incursion has to do with the information being held in a flash drive that looks like a device ready to expand into an Iron Man suit.  Alas, Tony Stark never shows up with help.  Instead, Sawyer must find a way back into the upper floors of the building to save his family, fighting off not only the bad guys, but also the cops who think he has something to do with the assault on the building.  It is going to take extraordinary feats for Sawyer to stop the bad guys and save his family, but with a little help from a few script conveniences, Dwayne Johnson should be up to the task.

The highlight of the movie is the architecture of the building.  A slim, twisted tower of metal and glass with giant turbines towards the top powering the entire building and a giant sphere that they call the “Pearl,” but looks more like a silver tennis ball, the building is truly a sight to behold.  If only the filmmakers would have taken more advantage of its unique features in the film’s over-the-top, yet underwhelming action scenes.  Aside from one scene in which Sawyer must navigate the turbines and another in the hall-of-mirrors-like interior of the Pearl, the building itself does not play much of a role in the action.

The movie’s action falls into what you might call the uncanny valley of over-the-top action scenes.  The stunts are ridiculous and unrealistic, but never go quite far enough to reach “so bad it’s good” level.  The result was a lot of unintentional laughs from the audience when Dwayne Johnson pulls off a superhero feat, culminating in him grabbing onto something at the last possible moment to keep from falling off the building for the half dozenth time. I’m sure Dwayne Johnson does have excellent finger muscles, but enough is enough.

Johnson does what he can with the material, but he is not given much to work against.  There is nothing remotely special about the villains in this movie and they are given little-to-no personalities… unlesslooking tough counts as a personality trait.  The movie buries the lead on their motivation and by the time their thin incentive is revealed, we have already given up caring.  For the most part, action movies are only as good as their villains (Die Hard, again, being the perfect example) and this movie is sadly lacking in that department.

Skyscraper would probably be a fine movie to throw on in the background whenever it shows up on television, but it does not do enough to justify the full theatrical experience. Fortunately, as his IMDB page demonstrates, there is no shortage of upcoming action flicks to get Dwayne Johnson back on track and winning the box office once again.

Skyscraper opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and the Landing Stadium 14 in Renton.

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.
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