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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Skyscraper  (2018)
2½ Stars
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Adrian Holmes, Tzi Ma.
2018 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and brief strong language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, July 11, 2018.
"Skyscraper" makes a promise to audiences almost immediately: check your brain at the door, drop your hyper-critical defenses, and for 102 minutes it will take you on the movie equivalent of a rollercoaster ride. Part fiery disaster flick à la "The Towering Inferno" and part terrorist thriller à la "Die Hard" (is there any wonder Universal Pictures recently released a pair of one-sheets modeled after these two pictures?), the film delivers exactly what it promises—not much more, and certainly nothing less. Those expecting to exit the theater galvanized by its untold thematic layers might as well keep walking. It's big, it's far-fetched, and it's certainly not deep. It is fun, however, and sometimes that's enough.

In the ten years since losing part of his leg during a hostage rescue gone terribly wrong, former special-ops officer Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) has switched careers and built a new life with the Naval surgeon who saved his life, wife Sarah (Neve Campbell). Standing an amazing 225 stories, the world's tallest, most technologically advanced building, The Pearl, has just been completed, and Will has relocated to Hong Kong with his family after being hired to check the high-rise's safety and security systems prior to the grand opening. His first day on the job suddenly becomes a fight for survival when a crew of cutthroat baddies steal a tablet in Will's possession controlling The Pearl's mainframe and subsequently set a roaring fire to the 95th floor—directly below where Sarah and twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) are trapped. With the police mistakenly believing Will is involved in the attack, he must evade capture and think fast if he hopes to save his family from the rapidly engulfing flames. Meanwhile, the criminals move ever closer to the penthouse of billionaire owner Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who carries with him a flash drive they desperately want.

"Skyscraper" is the most vertigo-inducing cinematic experience since Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing French high-wire artist Phillippe Petit, walked between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 2015's "The Walk." For much of the running time, viewers with a fear of heights will be daring themselves to keep their eyes on the screen while clenching the leg of whoever is sitting next to them. Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (2013's "We're the Millers") keeps apprehension levels high as he devises any number of impossible situations for star Dwayne Johnson (2017's "Baywatch"). Leaping from a crane to a broken window two thousand feet above street level? Check. Scaling around the building on a narrow ledge to reach a control panel located behind an active turbine? Check. Hanging upside down with nothing but a rope wrapped around his artificial leg keeping him from falling to his death? Check. Meanwhile, the fictional Pearl is a feat of creative design and first-rate special effects; seeing this skyscraper actualized onscreen, with its lavish, 30-story park inside and an eighth-wonder-of-the-world sphere perched on top, it's hard to believe—and admittedly disappointing—this architectural marvel doesn't really exist.

Dwayne Johnson (2017's "Baywatch") is not dramatically challenged as Will Sawyer; this role is very much within his wheelhouse, and he can always be counted on to play it well. When it comes to his starring vehicles, Johnson is a showman through and through, giving his all as he's put through a physically demanding wringer. The viewer is with him for every improbably step. Perhaps the most welcome surprise in the film is the casting of Neve Campbell (2011's "Scream 4") in a long-overdue, even juicy, big-screen turn. Refusing to be sidelined as imperiled wife Sarah, Campbell is no victimized love interest who sits around waiting for a sturdily biceped savior; instead, her character is resourceful, intelligent, and tough, proactively doing whatever it takes to protect her family. An immensely winning presence who deserves more high-profile roles such as this, she slays her way through some of the most cheer-worthy moments in the picture. Working from a script that doesn't offer many other substantively developed characters (the villains are almost exclusively one-note), Pablo Schreiber (2018's "Den of Thieves") is most memorable as Ben, a longtime friend and colleague of Will whose intentions aren't exactly on the up-and-up.

"Skyscraper" is an implausible yet oft-exciting lark, pure action-movie silliness one can imagine might have starred Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme had it been made in 1995. The bad guys' motivations are briefly mentioned without making much sense; Zhao's flash drive is the MacGuffin of the piece, a trivial means to an end. More compelling, anyway, are the blazing disaster stylings of the narrative, an amalgam of impressive stunt work, ace effects artistry, tightly coherent editing, and a gift for upping the ante on wild obstacles and derring-dos. Succeeding precisely because it puts on no airs, "Skyscraper" is every bit as electrifying as it is unapologetically inconsequential.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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