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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not So Much A Die Hard Clone As Die Hard Cosplay"
2 stars

For those of a certain age, it seems difficult to believe but as I write these words, it has been almost exactly 30 years to the day when a sarcastic New York cop went to see his estranged wife at her office Christmas party in Los Angeles, stumbled upon a massive robbery being pulled off by a group of highly skilled thieves posing as terrorists and took them all down in a series of wild action set pieces that wound up reducing most of the building’s 40 stories to smoke and rubble. Although the combination of a cops-and-robbers thriller and over-the-top Irwin Allen-style disaster spectacle may not have been the most original thing imaginable in theory, “Die Hard” proved to be one of those films where everything worked—the lean, effective and surprisingly witty screenplay, the good performance from Bruce Willis as the hero, the great one from Alan Rickman, making his film debut as chief villain Hans Gruber and the legitimately stunning action scenes that still have the power to amaze today and stand as one of the last great displays of practical visual effects work before the arrival of CGI—and the film that had until its release been largely derided for the controversial decision to pay Willis, who had not yet proven himself a big-screen draw, a then-astronomical $5,000,000 salary, not only became one of the year’s biggest hits and spawn a string of increasingly lackluster sequels but would essentially revolutionize the entire action film genre. For the next decade or two, the subgenre known as “Die Hard in a [Blank]” would flourish as film after film would try to replicate the formula of the original while resetting the action to locations ranging from everything from boats to trains to hockey games. Although a couple of these films were pretty good (especially the Steven Segal vehicle “Under Siege” and the cheerfully goofy Jean-Claude Van Damme joint “Sudden Death”) but most of them only served to remind viewers of just how brilliant “Die Hard” really was and how much the pretenders suffered in comparison.

In recent years, the “Die Hard” knockoff has faded from prominence, partly because of the upswing in superhero sagas and partly because it seems like a new overblown spectacle of the sort that “Die Hard” used to represent as a superior example hits the multiplexes every other week or so, making such films seem almost like an afterthought. However, the new action thriller “Skyscraper” is about as overt of a “Die Hard” clone as one could possibly ask for. In theory, it follows the formula of the original to a tee—a hero in the wrong place and the wrong time just trying to save his family, a high-tech team trying to pull off a daring robbery amidst all the chaos, dumb cops who are convinced that our hero is actually one of the bad guys and lots of dangling from precipices. In execution, however, the film plays more like “A Good Day to Die Hard” as it is little more than a listless clone of familiar elements that is too absurd to take seriously and too po-faced to accept as a goof. This is a shame because the notion of a meat-and-potatoes action film at this point does have a certain allure and in Dwayne Johnson, it has one of the few action stars of our time who could possibly make both the mayhem and the comparatively quieter character beats seem convincing in the way that Bruce Willis did all those years ago.

Johnson plays former FBI agent Will Sawyer and as the film opens, we see a flashback to ten years earlier where he makes a mistake during a hostage situation that leads to an explosion that costs him several of his men and a leg. On the bright side, this brings him into contact with former combat surgeon Sarah (Neve Campbell) and when the story picks up ten years later, they are married, have two adorable kids and the bespoke security consultation firm that he runs out of his garage has, thanks to the recommendation of a former member of his FBI team (Pablo Schreiber), landed the plum gig of going to Hong Kong, family in tow, to run an analysis of “The Pearl,” a 240-story skyscraper built by billionaire developer Zho Long Ji (Chin Han) that is believed to be “the safest super-tall structure” so that it can pass muster with his insurance agency and he can open the currently empty top half to residents.

At the risk of belaboring the point, things don’t go quite as planned once the nasty Kores Botha (Roland Moller) and his band of miscreants infiltrate the building, set the middle floor ablaze and then shut down the elaborate anti-fire measures that have been installed so that the inferno can continue to spread. Unfortunately, Sarah and the kids have unexpectedly returned to their room in the upper part of the building and are now trapped inside with seemingly nowhere to go. To make matters more complicated, Sawyer is outside of the building when things go sideways and now has to figure out how to get back inside—above the fire line, of course, so that he can rescue his family, protect Zho and avoid both incineration and Botha and his men.

Considering just how overt of a clone of “Die Hard” (with chunks of “The Towering Inferno” thrown in for good measure) that “Skyscraper” is, one might have expected that it would have a little fun with the template, especially considering that it is the brainchild of writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose previous efforts have included such comedies as “Dodgeball,” “We’re the Millers” and “Central Intelligence.” (I didn’t say they were good comedies.) The chief problem with the film that while it is absolutely absurd in every possible aspect from the building itself to Sawyer’s method of reentering the joint to save his family, it seems to actually want to take it a bit seriously at times, even going so far as to give one of the kids an asthmatic condition to spice things up a bit. It might have gotten away with this if Thurber demonstrated any sort of facility for this kind of storytelling but he doesn’t. The script is astonishingly banal—the characters are flat, the shocking twists are anything but and when the driving reason behind the incineration of the building is revealed, it is almost(overwhelming in its underwhelmingness. On the other hand, the efforts to plant items in the first act that end up coming back in the third as a manner of foreshadowing—a common literary device—are so ham-handed that they inspire much unintended laughter.

Even the big action beats, one of the film’s presumed selling points, turn out to be fairly unimpressive despite all the sound and fury surrounding them. The problem here is that in its efforts to try to top other films of this sort in terms of sheer spectacle, it just goes off the rails into pure cartoonishness. “Die Hard” contained plenty of wild action beats, of course, but they managed to stay within the realm of vague plausibility for the most part and the film even included one memorable scene—the one in which he picks glass out of his feet—that serves to reinforce that John McClane was just a regular guy and not one of the seemingly indestructible supermen that were dominating action cinema at the time. Here, everything is just a little too overblown for its own good. Take the sequence in which Sawyer contrives to get back into the building. This requires him to climb 100 stories in the air on the exterior of a nearby crane, extend it out as far as he can and then take a running jump across the chasm towards the one window he was able to knock out—remember, the guy also has an artificial leg as well. With scenes like that (and there are plenty of them), “Skyscraper” quickly becomes completely cartoonish in nature—fine if you are a cartoon but not so much if you aren’t—but since it refuses to fully embrace its own ridiculousness, it is impossible to fully embrace it either as a serious thriller or as a goof.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the best thing about the film is the presence of Dwayne Johnson, who has clearly become one of the more instantly likable movie stars of this era, especially when it comes to the big-ticket blockbusters that he often finds himself in. Sure, he can do the he-man stuff with no problem but at the same time, he also has a nice and dry sense of humor that acknowledges the oftentimes ridiculous circumstances that he finds himself in and genuine acting chops of the sort that show that he is perfectly capable of doing more than dumb action films if he wanted to. He gets to show a little of the former early in the proceedings but at a certain point, even though you are still on his side throughout, you get the sense that he is just going through the motions here in a project that might have been more suitable for him earlier in his career when his true capabilities were not yet fully recognized. Likewise, Neve Campbell doesn’t really have a lot to do here either but it is so nice to have her back on the big screen after what seems like a long time that I, for one, was willing to overlook her superfluousness to the proceedings. Everyone else, however, is kind of a bland non-entity, none more so than Moller’s eminently forgettable turn as the bad guy that feels less like true villainy and more like Robert Carlyle cosplay.

It could be argued, I suppose, that I am being a little too hard on “Skyscraper”—it is, after all, a film that seems to have nothing more on its mind than providing audiences (especially in the now-all-important Chinese market) with 100 minutes of mindless and hopefully air-conditioned entertainment. If that is literally all that you want, I suppose that it will do the trick and it is at least somewhat more palatable than the grotesque likes of “The First Purge” or “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” Personally, I wanted something a little more substantial than the empty calories offered up here, especially since its chief model proved 30 years ago that a film of this type could successfully offer up character, emotion and soul amongst the chaos without mucking things up. “Skyscraper” could have been a prime piece of summer entertainment but when all is said and done, it just feels like a lesser Boxer Santaros joint and nothing more.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31245&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/12/18 07:39:25
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User Comments

7/19/18 Dob Bog Fun fact: the original Die Hard is known in Portuguese as "Assault on the Skyscraper". 2 stars
7/18/18 Bob Dog A b-movie disaster romp with The Rock beats that tired superhero nonsense everyday. 4 stars
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  13-Jul-2018 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Oct-2018


  DVD: 09-Oct-2018

Directed by
  Rawson Marshall Thurber

Written by
  Rawson Marshall Thurber

  Dwayne Johnson

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