Review: 'Die Hard' wannabe 'Skyscraper' just dies

Dwayne Johnson is no John McClane, which is only one of the reasons this towering action flick falls on its face

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
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Dwayne Johnson stars in "Skyscraper."

Dwayne Johnson falls hard in "Skyscraper," a ho-hum homage to the original "Die Hard" that hits the ground with a resounding splat.

In it, Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, about as boring a name as you can slap on a guy with the bulging build of the Rock. Truth be told, his vanilla name fits his character, who is as boring a guy as Johnson has ever played on screen.

Will, having lost his left leg in a hostage negotiation gone bad (he was an FBI agent), is now a security consultant working on the world's tallest building, a Hong Kong high-rise known as "The Pearl," which is triple the height of the Empire State Building. 

While visiting with the building's billionaire designer, Zhao Min Zhi (Chin Han), bad dudes take over the Pearl with the intent of setting fire to the building and smoking out Zhao. But Will's family — wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children — is trapped in the building as well, so it's up to him to save his family, take out the bad guys and save the day. You know, John McClane stuff.  

"Die Hard," which was released 30 years ago this week, endures — and has spawned scores of imitators — because it had top-notch action, great characters (including one of the most charismatic villains in screen history), palpable suspense and a heroic story of one good guy facing insurmountable odds taking on a team of baddies. Director John McTiernan brought it all to a steady boil with a kinetic, fluid sense of motion and delivered an action movie classic.

All "Skyscraper" has going for it is a tall building.

It's an impressive building, to be sure, with expansive indoor gardens, a mile high sphere that overlooks the city and two turbines that churn outside the structure. Top notch real estate — if it were real, it would be worth a visit. 

But the building is given more character than any of the humans, whose thin motivations create a glaring lack of investment on behalf of viewers. The villains are particularly formulaic, carrying out a blackmail plan that is revealed far too late in the story to matter, and is too generic to emit anything but a shoulder shrug.

Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who also worked on "Central Intelligence" with Johnson (and has "Red Notice" lined up with the star in 2020), lacks a sense of placement which is critical in action films, especially those where characters' spatial relation to one another is so important. You're never quite sure where anyone is, which lessens the suspense. 

He openly cribs from sequences from better films; yes, "Die Hard," but also "The Towering Inferno" and "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," from which he wholesale lifts the death-defying Burj Khalifa set piece. 

And he needlessly tosses in street-level scenes, with groups of people watching the action as it unfolds on big screens in front of them (filmed seemingly by news cameras, which are never seen but manage to score some pretty extraordinary viewpoints for the action), ooh-ing and aah-ing in the appropriate spots. It's like a second screen experience of watching people watch the movie while watching the movie, and adds nothing to the film. 

Johnson, meanwhile, lumbers around, too beefed up to buy as an agile fighting machine. (He would have made a better villain than hero.) And his construction crane long jump, where he Air Jordans his way into the building? Not a chance. The sequence is presented so clumsily that it falls short, regardless of its outcome. 

Johnson's character in the film has a quick fix for everything: handy, everyday duct tape. "If you can't fix it with duct tape," he says at one point, "then you ain't using enough duct tape." 

"Skyscraper" needs a lot more duct tape.

(313) 222-2284




Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language

Running time: 109 minutes



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