There’s no better time than summer for a fun, brainless thriller. All you need is three key ingredients: a charismatic hero, a hateable villain and a snappy screenplay.
“Skyscraper,” regrettably, cuts likable star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson off at the knees by failing to deliver on the other two. (As producer, Johnson really has no one to blame but himself.)
Will Sawyer (Johnson), military veteran and former FBI hostage negotiator, now works in private security; we see his back story from a decade earlier, which involves a harrowing rescue gone wrong that left him with a prosthetic leg.
He’s the breadwinner for his ex-naval surgeon wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their young twins (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell), who’ve temporarily moved with him into a crazy-tall Hong Kong building called The Pearl, where Will is assessing safety protocols.
Gazillionaire owner Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) has, Will rather ominously concludes, constructed not only the highest but the safest structure in the world.
That security is all provided via next-level technology, the foibles of which are illustrated in a repeat line that’s a (probably unintentional, but a geek-girl can hope) shout-out to the Brit sitcom “The IT Crowd”: “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
There are no such switches on Johnson, who stays stuck in Action Hero Mode from the moment a terrorist (Roland Maller) and his lackeys seize control of the building, on through to the inevitable, heartwarming conclusion.
The whole film feels as if it’s on autopilot, or maybe written by artificial intelligence that’s been fed a steady diet of the “Die Hard” oeuvre, “Speed,” “Das Boot,” and, I’m guessing, “The Towering Inferno.” But like most AI facsimiles, this one can’t come up with anything memorably human.
The only line I found even worth jotting down in my notebook was, “If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you’re not using enough duct tape.” (Amen.)
It’s a bummer coming from director Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose 2016 feature “Central Intelligence” was a rollicking, The Rock-starring spin on spy movies.
There is a certain comfort-food element at play here, for sure, and if what you crave is Johnson getting down and dirty and heroically hurling himself across improbable distances to save civilians — knock yourself out.
But I’m voting Campbell for MVP of this one. As Will’s steel-nerved spouse, she shepherds their two kids through industrial hellscapes and plummeting elevators, even wobbling across a single wooden plank, in heeled boots, to save her daughter from a fiery pit.
What strikes me as the clunkiest metaphor in “Skyscraper” is the building’s titular pearl. A giant sphere delicately placed atop the structure’s spires, it’s described to Will by its creator as a space whose interior can morph into literally any environment via digital tech. Yet later, we find ourselves there in a hall-of-mirrors chase scene out of any number of older, better movies.
All that money and possibility, and yet here we still are, trapped in an endless cycle of clichés.