Review: Skyscraper doesn’t reach high enough

Dwayne Johnson does his best Bruce Willis in this shameless Die Hard knockoff, but all the digital effects in the world can't make up for a thin script

SKYSCRAPER (Rawson Marshall Thurber). 102 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (July 13). See listing. Rating: NN

People really don’t talk about Die Hard enough.

John McTiernan’s perfect hybrid of disaster movie and high-stakes thriller – you know, the one where weary New York cop John McClane is trapped in a Los Angeles high-rise office building along with his estranged wife, her co-workers and a dozen European criminals masquerading as terrorists – is, if not a perfect film, the next best thing. It’s clever, it’s fun and it’s a nerve-shredder if you see it on a big screen.

Die Hard was released 30 years ago this very month, and immediately spawned a new sub-genre of location-specific crisis thrillers which only occasionally matched McTiernan’s masterpiece of intensity and ingenuity. Speed caught it. Under Siege wasn’t bad. The Rock and Con Air had their moments.

Anyway, it took three decades but someone’s finally brought the concept back to its roots: Skyscraper is Die Hard in a very tall building – way taller than Die Hard’s puny Nakatomi Plaza, mind you – with Dwayne Johnson as its John McClane.

Specifically, he’s Will Sawyer, a soldier turned security expert trying to save his family from a criminal assault on the world’s largest building, a 220-storey marvel in Hong Kong called The Pearl. (And, due to said assault, it’s on fire.)

There are a bunch of reasons why everyone is there, but basically it’s all because of the Die Hard thing, and our hero needs a reason to get inside once the bad guys lock everyone out.

Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed Johnson in the goofy action-comedy Central Intelligence, delivers the fights, stunts and standoffs as expected, juggling story threads as Will works his way to his wife (Neve Campbell) and their kids (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell) while the sneering villain (Atomic Blonde’s Roland Møller) stalks around upstairs. But he seems to be actively suppressing the wilder instincts that made his earlier movies so much fun.

It would be nice, for instance, if anybody noticed that the situation bears a striking resemblance to one of the most-imitated movies ever made, but for the most part the dialogue is serviceable rather than self-aware.

Skyscraper is efficient and occasionally even clever – especially in the second act when it really embraces its inner Towering Inferno – but it never figures out how to be anything more than a knockoff. Johnson gives it his all, as he always does, but despite a mounting body count of anonymous workers, technicians and thugs, there’s never a sense of real risk or danger as far as the story goes. All the digital effects in the world can’t make up for a thin script.

Thurber is content to just go through the action-movie motions when he could – and should – be going for broke. And that’s no fun for anyone. | @normwilner

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