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The Tiring Inferno

Not long before hitting theatres, a poster was released for the action movie Skyscraper that in art style and design was an homage to the original poster for Die Hard, which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary the weekend Skyscraper opened. And I have to applaud Skyscraper for the honesty in admitting directly with its poster that it was nothing more than a rehash of older better action movies, with only imitation to offer itself.
Skyscraper is the first non-comedy film from director Rawson Marshall Thurber, and it definitely feels like it’s made by people who don’t know the genre they’re working in. Entirely driven by the gimmick of disaster, conspiracy, and danger taking place on the tallest building in the world, it’s not aware that this concept and the action set-pieces that result from it, aren’t at all original.
Veteran FBI officer Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is hired as the security inspector for “The Pearl”, a recently unveiled record-breaking skyscraper in Hong Kong. But on his first day on the job the tower is besieged by enemies of the Pearl’s architect (Chin Han) who dismantle its safety net and begin to set the building on fire. With his wife (Neve Campbell) and two children living on one of the residential levels, Sawyer goes to drastic measures to rescue his family and stop the terrorists.
In spite of the comparison drawn by the film itself, Skyscraper is less Die Hard and more an unofficial remake of The Towering Inferno, though it steals plenty from both. The plot is really convoluted and its direction is dictated by the next action set-piece, which is where the movie hopes it will impress. The Pearl is a technologically advanced, Modern style tower allowing for some heftier obstacles than in The Towering Inferno, such as spinning blades on the side of the building and a lookout point near the top that can become a house of mirrors for no reason. But these sequences don’t impress. Audiences have seen this kind of stunt-work before and it’s less easy to suspend our disbelief. And when the story doesn’t support these action scenes and can’t stand on its own at all it makes this film about terrorists on a burning skyscraper rather dull.
The film does a strange thing by opening on Sawyer’s backstory during a hostage situation that has the most minimal relevance to the rest of the story. All it does is weakly set up Sawyer’s aversion to guns (he has no problem beating up a lot of people though), his prosthetic leg, and one of the villains’ equally weak motivations. Afterwards, it tries to get into the main action as quickly as possible which opens more than a few very noticeable plot holes. At one point the villains set their eyes on Sawyer specifically as the only person who knows the tower well enough to get them what they want, despite him having just been hired that afternoon. And then there’s just the fact that every character makes stupid choices. For instance, one dying character with a gun decides as his last act not to shoot the villain, but rather to shoot and damage the helicopter so as to strand the terrorists on the burning building, as well as their surviving captives. And in the case of Sawyer, like many a poorly written action movie lead, he always goes for the most extreme option first. Upon realizing his family is trapped in the Pearl, instead of informing the police, firefighters, or other first responders, his immediate course of action is to climb to the top of a nearby building and break in himself using a precarious crane, a sequence which crosses the threshold from cool to silly.
There’s not much investment in the acting either. The evil terrorist leader is one-note, unthreatening, and stereotypically Russian. Han performs capably, but Noah Taylor, as with every movie he’s in, is just waiting to come out as a villain. It’s nice to see Neve Campbell in a movie again, but her role is little more than motivation followed by plot device. And as for Johnson, he’s lacking his usual charm. He plays his character too dramatically and the script and director don’t give him enough opportunity to exercise his strengths as an entertainer. His disability factors into the action in a couple fun ways, but that’s his only unique feature. And if the only interesting facet of Dwayne Johnson’s character is the fact that he’s got an artificial foot, I’d have much rather preferred Adam Hills in the role.
Skyscraper wants to be a tribute to the kind of high adrenaline hyper-masculine action movie of decades past, but only copies the formulas without adding any substance. The result is a movie that even makes Rampage look enjoyable. The Towering Inferno and Die Hard are far better movies. Why would you go to a theatre to be condescended to by this dull reproduction?

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