Blending a disaster movie with a heist plot is nothing new – though the latest one being The Hurricane Heist was god awful – and having it star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is definitely going to put more bums in the seats, but sadly the filmmakers never thought further than the premise of The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard – having a plot was apparently considered inconsequential – and so, we are left with a generic action flick that may help sell popcorn, but it will most likely be forgotten by the end of the year.
Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) lost his leg ten years ago – during a hostage situation that went very badly – and now he is a security consultant that’s been brought to Hong Kong to inspect and give his outside assessment on the integrity of the world’s tallest skyscraper, which they call “The Pearl” — a towering structure standing at 3,500 feet high. Unfortunately for Mister Sawyer, a group belonging to a criminal syndicate, led by the villainous Kores Botha (Roland Møller), have their own agenda, one that involves setting the building on fire. There is a ridiculous amount of expository dialogue tossed out to explain what is basically the dumbest plan in the history of dumb plans – Hans Gruber would have slapped these guys silly for even suggesting such an idiotic scheme – but it is all just needless set up so that The Rock can leap from giant cranes, run from explosions, and beat up bad guys.
This is the kind of movie that if you stop to think, even for just one second, the plot will immediately start to unravel. We are introduced to the building’s owner, Zhao (Chin Han), who has incriminating banking information on the syndicates, an ex -FBI agent Ben (Pablo Schreiber), who was once part of Will’s SWAT team and now seems a tad bitter – he’s also the one that got Will this job – and finally there is a British dude (Noah Taylor) who couldn’t look more guilty if given an eye patch and a goatee. The criminal’s scheme is ripped right from the pages of the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia – where Watson used a smoke bomb to make femme fatale Irene Adler think the place was on fire, so she would head for the hidden secret panel and retrieve an incriminating photograph – only in this case, the villains set fire to a giant skyscraper so that Zhao will bring out the flash drive they need, and if that doesn’t sound like the most dangerously over-complicated plan to steal something, well it gets worse.
The gang also needs to steal a computer tablet that Zhao gave Will – which can access all the building’s security measures, and will allow them to shut off the fire suppression systems – but the tablet has facial recognition software, so only Will’s face can unlock it. This is a plot point even the movie seems to forget, as the gang had earlier tried to steal it from Will – failing because Will had moved the tablet from his bag to his jacket pocket – but without Will’s face, the tablet would be useless to them. Eventually, Botha’s chief badass assassin, Xia (Hannah Quinlivan), retrieves the tablet from Will – holding his face to it so that it will open – but this leaves us with the question, how did they originally plan to access the building’s security systems if they needed Will’s face to open the tablet in the first place?
Of course, this is just a big dumb action film – plot holes are supposed to be overlooked while the hero is thumping the villains and things explode – but as charismatic and fun as Dwayne Johnson is to watch, and he does give his all in this film, it’s not enough to stop one from realizing just how ridiculous the plot is, and how idiotic his opponents are. I have to assume the decision to make Dwayne’s character a partial amputee was just to give the villains a fair shot at winning – Will Sawyer is easily the most handicapable person in the history of film – but the script also gave him a tough-as-nails wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), the Naval surgeon who saved Will’s life after the opening hostage disaster, and her ability to fight off mercenaries was a nice departure from the standard damsel-in-distress that you tend to find in these movies. This just adds another thing to the plus column for our hero. By the end of the film, you are almost feeling sorry for the bad guys.
As a typical summer action flick – one that is not going to be around during awards season – there are certainly a lot worse examples out there, and if you liked Dwayne Johnson in his disaster film San Andreas, or the ridiculous video game adaptation Rampage, then you will most likely get a kick out of this film. Skyscraper in no way compares well to either The Towering Inferno or Die Hard, but I don’t think writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber had any allusions that it would, and if you go into the theater to see this film, with the right frame of mind, you will probably have a good time.
• Will gives a briefing on the building’s security measures to a room full of people who would all be completely aware of how the building works.
• At one point Kores Botha states he needs Zhao alive – if dead, the syndicate’s secrets automatically get sent to the authorities – but mere minutes later Botha is seen firing his machine gun at Zhao. Does he have the memory of a goldfish?
• The jumbotron – that the spectators watching the fire are viewing – must get its footage from magical cameras, as it’s constantly getting impossibly great shots of The Rock climbing on the building.
• The Chinese police inexplicably bring Will’s wife to where they believe the villains will be rendezvousing.
• The final fight takes place in a digital hall of mirrors, a neat homage to Enter the Dragon.
• The Rock doesn’t kill anybody with his prosthetic leg. What’s up with that?
• Sarah and her kids are surprisingly immune to heat and smoke.