The action thriller “Skyscraper” — the latest respository of Dwayne Johnson’s unique brand of smoldering charm — follows the “‘Die Hard’ in a [blank]” formula so closely, it could be called “‘Die Hard’ in a ‘Die Hard’ movie.”
Johnson’s character, Will Sawyer, is a security analyst pitching his services to a Hong Kong billionaire, Zhao Long Ji (played by Chin Han), who has just built the world’s tallest building, the 220-story ultra-luxury high-rise The Pearl. Zhao has even let Sawyer bring his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their twin children, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), to stay in one of the residences.
Of course, saying “Dwayne Johnson plays a security analyst” is like saying “Elvis Presley plays a race-car driver” — it doesn’t really matter what his job is, because he’s Dwayne Johnson and his job is to kick butt and save the day. And, like most heroes in action movies, whatever job they have now is usually prefaced with a long resumé of special ops training or something.
Here, Sawyer was a Marine, then an FBI agent specializing in hostage situations. A prologue shows Sawyer’s last hostage crisis gone wrong, leading to a bomb that left him with a prosthetic left leg. It’s also how Sawyer met Sarah, a Navy surgeon who saved his life — and it’s a nice modern flip on the cliche that she also has a military resumé, having served three tours in Afghanistan.
Nobody puts a skyscraper in their movie without also putting in a team of international terrorists bent on destroying said skyscraper, for reasons that are unimportant other than to move the plot along. This team, led by Danish actor Roland Møller, strikes the building, trapping Zhao and his team — including a stuffy insurance executive (Noah Taylor) — in the penthouse, Sarah and the kids on the 98th floor, and Will on the outside, being framed for the attack. So, naturally, Sawyer must dodge Hong Kong police, get back into the building and save everyone.
Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who worked with Johnson and Kevin Hart making the action comedy “Central Intelligence,” doesn’t really have the hang of this action thing. (He’s better known for comedies, having directed “Dodgeball” and “We’re the Millers.”) He front-loads the exposition, with all the building info that we’ll need to remember later, then strings together the action set pieces for Johnson to run through like an “American Ninja Warrior” obstacle course.
Amid the computer-generated effects to create the ridiculously elaborate title character, “Skyscraper” has one charmingly clever visual: The high-tech playroom Zhao has built into the sphere atop The Pearl, with screens on every surface, including the 100-plus obelisk-like screens that pop up from the floors. Those kiosks turn the room into a hall of mirrors that resurface in the movie’s finale — and seems designed for the sole purpose of making snooty critics reference a similar scene in Orson Welles’ 1947 noir thriller “The Lady from Shanghai.”
People who like Dwayne Johnson could care less about such things, but it’s nice that Thurber indulged his movie love and included it in an otherwise forgettable bit of formula like “Skyscraper.”
★★1/2 (out of four)
Opens Friday, July 13, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. Running time: 102 minutes.