“Skyscraper,” Dwayne Johnson’s hostages-in-a-high-rise action spectacle, owes an obvious debt to “Die Hard.”
Unfortunately, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence”) doesn’t even bother to try hard.
The result is a movie that’s simultaneously much too convoluted and far too lazy.
Johnson portrays Will Sawyer, a combat veteran and former FBI hostage rescue team leader, who’s entered the narrow field of skyscraper security assessment. He and his family — wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and 8-year-old twins (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell) — have traveled to Hong Kong so Will can provide feedback to Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the billionaire developer of The Pearl, the world’s tallest building, standing more than 3,500 feet.
The unsuspecting Will has no idea he’s about to become an integral part of an elaborate theft perpetrated by Kores Botha (Roland Moller), the hired muscle for three crime syndicates.
How elaborate you ask? Strap yourself in.
Botha needs to retrieve something from Zhao’s 220th-floor penthouse atop The Pearl, so he waits for Will to show up and be handed a tablet that gives him access to the entire building and sends goons to steal it. He then frames Will — for, well, something, apparently — so that he’s kinda, sorta sought by the police. All this is so Botha can override all of The Pearl’s redundant security measures and state-of-the-art fire suppressants to torch the 96th floor, wait for the blaze to possibly, eventually make its way up 124 stories, smoke Zhao out of his home and hopefully find a way to get him to surrender the item.
That’s the best plan a criminal mastermind can hatch?
Did Botha order that from the ACME catalog, somewhere between the Giant Rubber Band and the Earthquake Pills?
Even if you can accept the sublime idiocy of this scheme, it’s virtually impossible to overlook the scene in which Will — despite having a nasty forearm gash and having taken a bad fall on his shoulder — is able to scale more than a thousand feet up the beams of a construction crane in moments, before the police can cut through a simple lock and take the elevator up there or get a helicopter off the ground, without being the least bit winded.
Then there’s Will’s obsession with duct tape, as though “Skyscraper” originally was intended as a “Home Improvement”-era vehicle for Tim Allen. If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you don’t have enough duct tape, Will announces to no one while using the adhesive to bandage a deep wound. When Zhao asks if Will has a plan, he responds, “Got any duct tape?” Will even wraps his hands and shoes with duct tape to help him cling to The Pearl’s glass facade like a redneck Spider-Man.
“Duct Tape Presents Skyscraper” is full of as many needless details as The Pearl. And, considering the only people inside the massive, unfinished structure are Will, his family, Zhao, a few aides and a gaggle of bad guys, it feels very nearly as empty.
The Pearl features a 30-story park that, while a terrible use of space from a cost-benefit analysis, seems designed for a major action set piece — yet Will, his family and the terrorists blow through it faster than the fire. Massive turbines that power The Pearl feel like another attempt to one-up “Die Hard,” which elicited great suspense from John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) narrow escape between the blades of a small fan in the building’s cooling system — yet, once again, Will overcomes the obstacle with ease.
Here’s the thing about “Die Hard” and why it endures, nearly 30 years after its release: It’s an underdog story of a barefoot cop, 2,500 miles from home, trapped by terrorists in an unfamiliar building. As the franchise’s sequels already proved, bigger doesn’t equal better. Pitting a security expert against some third-rate, wannabe baddies in a bigger building — a building the hero knows better than anyone aside from its developer — isn’t just uninteresting, it’s uninspired.
“Skyscraper” is full of plot holes big enough to lay the foundation for another skyscraper.
Fittingly, considering all the shoutouts to duct tape, most of the movie feels as though it were patched together with the sticky stuff.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.