Through no fault of my own, I’m becoming something of a Dwayne Johnson completist. Johnson has starred in three features in the last seven months, and God help me, I’ve reviewed them all. The only minor consolation I can take in this crash course in diminishing returns is that I was mercifully spared Baywatch duty last summer. So to say that I’m suffering from The Rock fatigue would be something of an understatement, but even that doesn’t fully explain the rancor I harbor toward Skyscraper, easily one of the stupidest films of 2018 thus far.
But what do you expect from a movie that seems tailor-made to appeal to Chinese box office whims rather than engineered to tell a compelling story? I only started to heavily consider the impact of international markets on the fate of the American blockbuster when films like Warcraft found a second life overseas that far outstripped their domestic success (or lack thereof), and my suspicions deepened when I reviewed the execrable Matt Damon vehicle The Great Wall. However, Skyscraper takes this trend of pander-prone profiteering to new heights. Lest readers believe I protest too much, consider that this film was primarily financed by Legendary Pictures, the same company that produced both aforementioned movies — and a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s Dalian Wanda Group, the multinational conglomerate that now owns the AMC theater chain. From Skyscraper’s Hong Kong setting to its dearth of meaningful dialogue (making for easier subtitling and dubbing), the pessimist in me sees this a portent of summer movie seasons to come.
Speculation on financial motives aside, Skyscraper is a steaming pile stacked high enough to match its titular tower. The Rock plays an ex-military, former FBI agent turned security analyst — because I guess the writers felt the need to include every macho occupation they could imagine — whose family has traveled with him to Hong Kong, where he’s been given his big break by evaluating the safety of the world’s tallest skyscraper. There’s some slight backstory about how he lost a leg below the knee to a suicide bomber, but this seems to exist solely to give Johnson a fun prop to use and some plausible deniability regarding his seemingly superhuman status later in the film. He also has a wife played by Neve Campbell and a couple of cute kids who effectively function as props to motivate his quest to save them when the building is predictably imperiled. There’s obviously a nefarious plot at play here, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie. In many ways, we still don’t.
Johnson is as passable as ever, largely because this is a bland action movie that requires little of him beyond sheer physicality. But writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber — yes, the one who directed Dodgeball — has crafted one of the most painfully transparent narratives in cinema history. Despite an ample budget and a derivative set piece clearly ripped off wholesale from Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, there is not a single story beat that isn’t telegraphed from a mile away. Maybe Thurber believes foreign audiences to be less sophisticated in their background viewing, but this tepid tentpole takes its The-Towering-Inferno-meets-Die-Hard premise and drags it through the decomposing remains of better movies until the third act grinds to an abrupt halt just shy of two hours. If Skyscraperconstitutes a disaster movie renaissance overseas, I just hope they’ll have the good sense to rip off Airplane! while they’re at it.