There is a moment in which The Rock has just finished covering his hands and shoes with inside out sticky tape so that he can somehow spiderman his way up the glass outside of a burning building and he looks straight at the camera and says “This is stupid.” To which the audience can only say, as one, “You think?”
As John pointed out, in a movie full of feats of strength, The Rock’s greatest feat is somehow carrying the whole damn movie. Whenever the camera comes off The Rock, the air just goes out of the room. Clearly, it’s challenging to hire a cast with more natural charisma than Dwayne Johnson, but it takes something - and I really don’t know what - to hunt down a cast with so much less. He’s playing a guy with an artificial leg, and the leg has both more to do, and more charisma, than pretty much everyone else in the movie.
So; to plotting. Skyscraper has the world’s largest building, and it’s got to be a death trap for someone. What will we do? Towering Inferno? Die Hard? I know, why not both? Because if you try to do both, it’s going to be what actually happens in this movie, and please, let’s never do that again. An insane but somehow likeable Chinese megalomaniac billionaire has built the world’s tallest building in Hong Kong. Which was only possible because he paid a load of protection money to the Hong Kong criminal underworld. And then he tracked all the money (seriously, can I please escape from plots which involve money laundering?) back to the crimelords and their secret stashes, and this is - heaven help us - his insurance policy.
It’s the worst insurance policy in the world, because all these crimelords sic their enforcer on him to get the information back, and he does it by the simple expedient of setting fire to the whole building to see if that sends the owner rushing to find his stash. So, your insurance policy causes your building to burn down. I’ll just let that sit there.
Why does the Rock care about what’s cooking? Well on the one hand, for reasons which beggar understanding, his one-man-in-a-garage security operation got hired to check the fire safety in the world’s most expensive structure. And on the other hand, his shifty ex-FBI friend’s simple plan to keep The Rock’s family out of the building as the plot unfolds goes straightforwardly wrong, stranding Neve Campbell and her utterly non-identical twin moppets right above the fire line (there is no apparent reason why they shouldn’t have been below it, other than to get The Rock all motivated, but eh…).
Now, you, bless you, probably think that a skyscraper called the Pearl is probably made out of ferro-concrete and glass and just possibly actual pearls. There you go with your common sense assumptions, not thinking like a screenwriter. The Pearl is in fact made entirely of Chekhov’s guns, and our introduction to the building thuds through all the features which we just know are going to be key setpieces in the adventure to come. Wind turbines to power the building; The Rock’s totally going to have to jump through those, isn’t he? Huge atrium garden full of empty spaces to fall through; folks are going to dangling over that drop in no time, aren’t they? Big hall of mirrors at the top of the building; we’re going to redo the climax of Lady from Shanghai from Shanghai before we’re done. I just know it. And oh, oh, I know this bit; key character is told that to fix most technical problems you just turn the device off and on again ….
Not one bit gets missed. This is a film whose biggest surprise comes in casting Noah Taylor to look like a treacherous English weasel, and making it so obvious that when he actually turns out to be a treacherous English weasel, it almost feels like a twist because the audience would have been thinking that surely the script couldn’t have been that unimaginative.
And while I know I was waxing lyrical just the other day about the simple pleasures of the 80s, this movie reactivates one facet which should have died thirty years ago; the gang of interchangeable Eurotrash gangsters. Fine if you’re Die Hard and Alan Rickman’s in charge, but not when you’re making a movie with an even mix of Chinese and US money, and you just want the bad guys not to annoy anyone who might be signing a cheque or paying for a movie ticket. Eurotrash make great villains, because they don’t have any particular ethnicity, and taken as a group, Europeans are both mature and educated enough not to take any of that crap seriously. But we are picky enough to ask for Eurotrash with some class to them. If you can’t get Alan Rickman ...
The Rock’s already made more movies this year than most people see in a cinema in a full year, and we all need to pray that this is bas as it gets. In the meantime, we have learned one useful lesson; you can’t build a whole skyscraper with just one rock.