How you gonna hire one-legged Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to insect the safety features of your spectacular new Hong Kong high-rise, then let bad guys set the building on fire and threaten The Rock’s family? You think one-legged Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is gonna stand for that? He is not! He will beat the hell out of that skyscraper, even if it is the title character of the movie!
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former hostage negotiator who lost most of his left leg in a ‘splosion and now works as a safety consultant. He and his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their 10-year-old twins (Noah Cottrell, McKenna Roberts) are staying in The Pearl, a 220-story spectacle built by Hong Kong tycoon Zhao Jong Ji (Chin Han), the bottom half of which is now open for shops and offices while the residential top half gets its final inspections for fire safety and whatnot, supervised by an officious insurance agent (Noah Taylor).
Wouldn’t you know it, on the very day that Will tours The Pearl’s offsite security headquarters, guided by an old law-enforcement buddy (Pablo Schreiber), bad guys take over and start a fire on the 96th floor of The Pearl itself, deactivating the electronic fire-extinguishing technologies. Turns out there is an elaborate conspiracy afoot — not to destroy the building but to force Zhao Jong Li to hand over some MacGuffin that the bad people want. The building, and Will’s family — who were supposed to be at the zoo when all this went down but came home early to their un-fire-safety-checked 98th-floor apartment — are collateral damage.
Not if Will has anything to say about it, though! In a few sequences already widely shown in the movie’s advertising, he finds resourceful (if not laws-of-gravity-honoring) ways of entering a burning building many hundred feet above the streets of Hong Kong, clinging to this, clutching that, swinging down from the other thing. Once he’s inside, Skyscraper (written and directed by Dodgeball auteur Rawson Marshall Thurber) becomes an unapologetic Die Hard riff, released on that film’s 30th birthday.
Being a Die Hard riff is fine, but even among Die Hard riffs this isn’t a very clever or interesting one. It’s the kind of formula action flick where everything that happens in the last 30 minutes was telegraphed in the first 30 minutes, and where most of the characters turn out to be untrustworthy. Johnson offers his usual earnest charisma, and Neve Campbell gets to kick butt for a minute, but it’s not enough to overcome the banality of the script.
Now, about the leg. The only time the leg factors into the plot is when Will takes the prosthetic off and uses it to prop open a door (seriously). The only time it factors into Will’s psychology is … never. It’s not a mental block he must overcome or anything like that. There being no reason for the disability in terms of story or character, I have to assume it’s there because someone challenged Thurber to draw three random things out of a hat and then put them in the movie (the other two were “asthma” and “hall of mirrors”). To me this seems like pandering. But Kristen Lopez, a disabled critic who frequently writes on this subject (sometimes for us), liked the film because Will’s missing leg was just a matter-of-fact aspect of his character and not some Big Thing. So what do I know? Except that it’s not a good movie either way. I stand firm on that.