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Skyscraper review: With a wide-eyed leap, the Rock makes the ridiculous believable

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 11/07/2018 Sandra Hall

Video provided by Associated Press


M, 102 minutes


There's a good reason why Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson is one of Hollywood's most popular action men.

Unlike Tom Cruise, he frequently looks alarmed and astonished at the lunacy behind the stunts he's required to perform. While Cruise is often exasperated by the demands placed upon him, he never doubts his inner Superman will kick in when needed.

In Skyscraper Dwayne Johnson rarely seems confident of being able to get out alive. © Universal Pictures In Skyscraper Dwayne Johnson rarely seems confident of being able to get out alive. In contrast, the Rock rarely seems confident of being able to get out alive. But whatever happens, his sense of humour keeps reminding us that, behind the muscles, he's one of us.

His latest, Skyscraper, incorporates borrowings from The Towering Inferno, the Irwin Allen classic from the 1970s, along with a few unsettling reminders of London's Grenfell Tower tragedy, but echoes of Cruise's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol have found their way in, as well.

The highlight of Ghost Protocol was the sequence that had Cruise climbing, running and leaping all over the upper levels of the world's tallest building, the 130-storey Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It was designed by the American architect Adrian Smith, who was consulted by writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber, and his team as they created the Rock's Skyscraper co-star, the Pearl, a 225-storey edifice soaring above Hong Kong.

Dwayne Johnson is on a mission to rescue his family. © Universal Pictures Dwayne Johnson is on a mission to rescue his family. Naturally, Johnson will repeatedly risk his life clambering up, down and around it. And – eat your heart out, Tom Cruise – he'll do it with a prosthetic leg. He loses one of his own in the film's pre-credits sequence, which has him blown up in the course of his duties as the head of an FBI hostage rescue team.

When we next meet him, 10 years have passed and he's happily married to Sarah, the surgeon who treated him after the blast. She's played by Neve Campbell, whose role in Game of Cards has clearly taught her a lot about keeping her cool no matter what.

Johnson's Will Sawyer has just secured a contract to oversee the Pearl's security when a fire breaks out on the 96th floor, trapping Sarah and the couple's children. The culprits are a gang led by Dutch actor Roland Moller, an accomplished tough guy who showed his mettle in the bleak Danish WWII film Land of Mine.

Noah Taylor is one of his accomplices but the villainous effect of his performance is undercut by an excess of sneering and drawling. Never mind. Also on the team is a Lisbeth Salander derivative (Hannah Quinlivan) – a slender, leather-clad female assassin with a Louise Brooks bob and nerves of titanium or some other high-performance element.

They're out to avenge themselves on the Pearl's owner, a Chinese billionaire so bent on the survival of his creation that little else matters, including his own life. So it's up to Will to save his family. But first he has to find them, which means getting into the building at a level above the fire line without the aid of a helicopter. Furthermore, one of his kids suffers from asthma. When it comes to dreaming up ways to raise the stakes, the film's writers have no shame.

Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson manage to keep their cool in Skyscraper. © Universal Pictures Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson manage to keep their cool in Skyscraper. A roll of duct tape plays a big part in the Rock's array of rescue techniques and there's a similarly old-fashioned, rough-and-ready feel to many of the stunts, despite all of the Pearl's fabulously high-tech accessories and futuristic features.

Computer systems may be able to perform remote-control miracles but they're all hackable and in the end, nothing can compare to the Rock's durable combination of muscle and Boy Scout know-how. He's either going to crash or crash through, yet despite the fact that we know exactly which of those alternatives is going to prevail, there's a sweaty-palmed potency to the scenes that have him dangling in the air, smashing through high-tensile glass or dreaming up another seemingly impossible way of propelling himself through space.

And all the while, he looks panicky, wide-eyed and as if he wishes he were doing anything rather than playing these suicidal games – which is the way he should look if we're to care at all. Humility can pay off – as he regularly demonstrates with the size of his annual earnings.

Pictures: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s style evolution

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