BURN BABY BURN
Main Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
The contracts have been signed and I am happy to announce that I will indeed be starring in the second national tour of Hello, Dolly! in the title role. I just know my appearance is going to guarantee absolute boffo box office. I was assuming we would play our first date in Chicago or San Francisco, but the latest tour calendar I saw had us opening in Bismarck, North Dakota. It’s not a town I’m familiar with but as a state capital, I’m sure it’s a beacon of culture and learning and art and the good burghers of the town will be happy to come on down to the Bismarck Civic Center to watch me descend that famous staircase. Of course, I’m having them redesign the gown. Red is such a common color, so my second act costume is going to be aubergine with chartreuse highlights and a large peacock blue train with tangerine trim. The audience will simply be open mouthed at my entrance.
In the meantime, I had a very long conference call with Leah, head of my consumer products division, about our need to get MNM branded merchandise shipped to fine retailers for this upcoming holiday season. We’re going to make a big push on VickiWear, my lower priced line of active wear based on the costumes of famous Broadway musicals. We have two new Vicki’s Secret lines of lingerie, one based on Cabaret and one on Chicago that we are sure are going to delight women all over America at the joyous season. They’re going to be available in assorted sizes from small to 4XL and in white, black, and Elphaba Green. They have to do better than our The Sound of Music dirndls and lederhosen, we had a terrible time unloading them even when we through in a free goatherd puppet with each purchase.
The call was exhausting and left me in a bit of a temper, so I decided I better head on over to the local AMC for quick matinee to restore my equanimity. When I headed up to the ticket window (and was somewhat miffed that the cashier did not recognize me as a celebrity behind my large rhinestone Foster Grants), I asked which film was starting next and was told something called Skyscraper starring Dwayne Johnson who used to be known as The Rock. Mr. Johnson seems to be hell bent on unofficially remaking cheesy 70s disaster films as cheesy modern action movies (San Andreas more or less being Earthquake) and this film is an homage to The Towering Inferno crossed with Die Hard, although the basic plot was lifted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia. And that’s the major problem with the enterprise, it has no original thoughts or ideas and seems to be assembled from bits and pieces of much better films.
Skyscraper opens with a hostage situation at a Minnesota cabin. We meet Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), an FBI hostage specialist who leads his team to the rescue, but something goes wrong and Sawyer is seriously injured in the fracas and ends up losing his left leg below the knee. In the hospital, he is saved by pretty surgeon Sarah (Neve Campbell). Fast forward ten years and Will has left the FBI and is now a private security consultant. His old FBI buddy Ben (Pablo Schreiber) has gotten him a lucrative contract evaluating a new skyscraper in Hong Kong, twice the height of anything previously built, the dream of controlled safety systems, private jokes about cell phones, and we meet Will and Sarah’s twin moppets (Mckenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell). In a film like this with its paint by numbers screenplay, everything happens for a reason, so we know all of this will come back before the end. Eventually a motley crew of villains, identifiable by their collection of evil European accents, take over the skyscraper and set it on fire, trapping Will’s family in their apartment part way up and the tycoon in his penthouse. Will has to get into the building, save his family and then we have to get to the bottom of why this collection of Eurotrash wants to create a 3,000-foot chimney. There are shoot outs, high speed motorcycle chases, a bit with a construction crane, a helicopter crash, children in jeopardy in a burning garden, rappelling down the side of the building with a single line rope, and a finale lifted straight out of The Lady from Shanghai by way of The Man with the Golden Gun.
Skyscraper was written, or perhaps I should say assembled from spare parts, and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, an auteur best known for light comic fare. Such as Easy A and Dodgeball. How he was given this assignment, I am unsure. There are no big budget actioners in his past. His direction is competent, but there’s no originality to it. Every sequence looks like it was composed to mimic something from some other film. Without a unique point of view or personal touches, the whole thing comes across as formulaic. It doesn’t help that his leading man runs the gamut of emotions from A to B and spends most of the film looking constipated. Bruce Willis, when he played a similar role in Die Hard, gave us a complex and flawed human being running around a skyscraper under siege. Dwayne Johnson gives us a rock. He must also be some sort of distaff relation of The Incredibles as he, and his entire family, are able to violate the laws of physics for the convenience of plot. Die Hard also introduced the international movie going audience to the delightful Alan Rickman whose villain was an appropriate foil and just as interesting to watch. The villains here are interchangeable automatons, none of whom get enough screen time to make much of an impression, although Noah Taylor, as a crooked insurance agent does give it the old Alan Rickman try.
Neve Campbell, as the chief damsel in distress, isn’t given much to do other than act as a plot device. It is nice to see an actress with some maturity in the role rather than the usual twenty-five-year-old. She’s fine, but any actress of her generation would have been OK as she’s not directed to give any sort of idiosyncratic moments that might make her an interesting human. Most of the time, she’s a walking plot device. Some of the Asian actors in supporting roles (we are in Hong Kong after all, even though the film was shot in Canada – the wonders of CGI) are quite good, especially Hannah Quinlivan as some sort of ferocious ninja girl. Byron Mann, as the police inspector trying to make sense of everything from the outside, also has his moments.
Skyscraper isn’t bad. It just isn’t especially good. It’s a competent theme park ride and an enjoyable way to spend a few hours in air-conditioned comfort on a hot afternoon. Just don’t expect to feel moved in any way when it’s over and the details will be fuzzy by the time you’ve driven home.
Cell phone reboots. Abortive panda visit. Smashed dishwasher. Machine gunned security employees. Gratuitous virtual reality sphere. iPad McGuffin. Crane climbing. Physically impossible leaping. Elevator cable cutting. Artificial leg save.
If you feel you need some Dwayne Johnson in your life, might I suggest this instead?