If charisma alone could carry a movie, then Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would never have to worry about bad reviews or disappointing box office returns. The man is simply bursting with likable charm and mass-audience appeal. Sadly, however, it turns out that even The Rock's seemingly boundless smile can only go so far when forced to shoulder the weight of a 3,500 ft. building on fire. Thanks to a lazy script and exceedingly generic filmmaking, "Skyscraper" wastes its talented star and blockbuster budget on forgettable action and disposable plotting. What should have been a surefire exercise in fun, over-the-top spectacle becomes an eye-rollingly dumb and surprisingly dull retread of many tried-and-true action movie clichés.
After losing his leg in a mission gone wrong, former FBI agent Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) settles down and starts a family. When his new job as a security expert for the world's tallest and most advanced skyscraper takes him to Hong Kong, he brings his wife and kids along to live in the giant building. But their peaceful life is soon torn asunder when criminals infiltrate the tower and set it ablaze. With the skyscraper now on fire and his family trapped inside, Will must risk everything to save his loved ones before the whole structure burns to the ground.
Basically playing out like a remixed take on "Die Hard" and "The Towering Inferno" on steroids, the plot is definitely on the derivative side. Will's escapades in Nakatomi Plaza -- err, I mean the skyscraper -- bear more than a passing resemblance to a certain high-stakes crisis involving one John McClane. Unfortunately, the utterly ridiculous and mostly uninspired thrills here just can't match up to that 1980s classic. Hell, they can't even match up to "Live Free or Die Hard."
To be fair, the opening hostage situation and an early brawl offer some pretty solid action and visceral energy, adhering to a surprisingly grounded style considering the outlandish premise. But once Johnson starts climbing a giant scaffolding in order to leap straight into the fiery tower, all logic and reason jump off the crane with him. And to be honest, this disregard for any semblance of reality could have actually been a lot of fun, but the movie fails to find the playful tone necessary to sell its own adrenaline-fueled insanity. As it stands, the ludicrous situations and set-pieces that follow are more groan-inducing than entertaining.
Don't get me wrong, The Rock dangling from the edge of a 3,500 ft. building by holding onto his character's own prosthetic leg could be the ideal ingredient for tongue-in-cheek action perfection, but the execution here is disappointingly drab and generic, robbing the movie's ostensibly zany set-pieces of any real amusement. As crazy as this might sound for a film that already features a man clenching a burning bridge together with his bare hands, the movie could have actually benefited from going even more over-the-top. Instead, the flick seems to inexplicably take itself too seriously.
Sure, we get a few mildly comical one-liners about duct tape and an occasional self-aware gag, but the plot itself plays out far too earnestly. And I guess this could have worked if there was any substance or intrigue to the narrative. But the paper-thin story ends up going nowhere, needlessly teasing the antagonist's mysterious motivation only to pay off this setup with the most mundane and disposable reveal imaginable. In general, the script just comes across as lazy, failing to offer any real surprises, character depth, or, outside of one or two crazy moments, even any creative scenarios for stunts.
Based on the logline and poster, I went into "Skyscraper" expecting a silly but fun time at the movies. What I didn't expect was a flick that could somehow make the sight of Dwayne Johnson leaping from a crane onto a giant burning building... boring. There are a few decent set-pieces here and there, including a fairly solid climax set in a high-tech version of a funhouse mirror maze, but most of the action is disappointingly generic. Coupled with a derivative plot and an oddly earnest tone, the movie just doesn't have enough playful energy and creativity to live up to the over-the-top promise of its own best moments. Though he tries valiantly to keep things aloft, even the Rock's bulging biceps can't carry this burning misfire of a flick.