Johnson climbs to dizzying heights in ‘Skyscraper’

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Possibly as a legacy to “Towering Inferno” (1974) and certainly a tribute to “Die Hard” (1988), Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as “The Rock”) climbs to dizzying heights to save his on-screen family from a cataclysmic disaster. Set in Hong Kong, the world’s tallest and most hi-tech, hi-fashion hi-rise is under siege.

Lately, Johnson has been fairly pervasive in the movie industry. We just saw this heroic hunk a few months back in the silly but entertaining “Rampage,” and a few months before that in the silly but entertaining “Jumanji 2” (another sequel is in the works). “Skyscraper” is not really silly, but as in his action-thriller “San Andreas” (2015), the audience is required to suspend a certain amount of logic for the duration of the movie.

In this feature, FBI Hostage Rescuer Will Sawyer (Johnson) has been involved in a horrible explosion that caused extensive injuries and the loss of his leg. Ten years later, Will is rebuilding his life as a civilian family man and skyscraper security consultant. His current assignment takes him to the tallest building in the world.

After proudly declaring his latest subject, The Pearl, the safest building in the world, he finds it suddenly ablaze. Worse yet, his family is trapped inside and he is being blamed for the entire incident. Will’s challenge is to flee from the authorities, rescue his family, find those responsible and clear his name. Typically not a problem for “The Rock,” but there are not many places to hide for this American on the run in Hong Kong.

Written, directed and produced by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence” 2016), this is Thurber’s second collaboration with Johnson and first non-comedy picture. There is a steady stream of stunning visuals on the big screen, especially effective for those with a touch of acrophobia. Of course, the sense of height makes the death-defying stunts seem even more terrifying than anything with the villains or storyline.

We enjoyed seeing Neve Campbell (“House of Cards”) in a major motion picture again, this time as Will’s feisty wife Sarah. In her limited number of scenes as a wife and mother, she exhibits wit, compassion and strength. Danish actor Roland Moller plays Kores Botha, the evil terrorist, while international film legend Chin Han, from Singapore, plays the dignified real estate mogul Zhao Long Ji.

Once the backstory is established, Thurber wastes little time getting to the action, which is really a series of cliffhanger situations for protagonist Will Sawyer to overcome. With such a massive physique and even bigger heart, the audience roots for this champion, and welcomes the next preposterous challenge. Not that they needed any help, but the on-screen crowd below the skyscraper also cheers for each successful exploit. Only 3D projection might have made these feats more disturbing.

Eventually, the acrobatic spectacle reaches a saturation point on both quality and quantity. The movie became less of a contiguous story and more a string of implausible challenges for America’s Ninja Warrior. This character has a “leg up” on the villains, so he uses whatever he has to win the day. Although the movie is well produced and has likable stars involved with the extreme action scenes, overall, it is fairly forgettable.

“Skyscraper” is 102 minutes and rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence, action and strong language. Johnson could probably make a nice career by just showing up. Fortunately, he does much more and it shows. Johnson performs preposterous tongue-in-cheek stunts, straining credibility, but inviting the audience to cheer anyway. Who knew these traits could be performed by a former TV wrestler?

Serious moviegoers might never appreciate Johnson, even when he rises to new levels of mediocrity. He is an appealing and bankable star that has found his niche in these action-thrillers. Filmed in Hong Kong, this silly but entertaining movie is much like Chinese food. We got more than our fill for our money but an hour later we were hungry for something more substantial.

Ron’s Rating: B
Leigh’s Rating: B

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Ron & Leigh Martel