Review of “Skyscraper”

Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a former Marine and FBI hostage rescue team leader. While leading an extraction along with his friend Ben (Pablo Schreiber) a bomb explodes injuring most of the team. Will loses his left leg below the knee and Ben is scarred on his face and neck. Will’s doctor is Sarah (Neve Campbell), a Navy surgeon with tours in Afghanistan. The two fall in love and marry having two children, Georgia and Henry (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell). After recovering from his injuries, Will starts a security consulting business out of his garage. Ten years after losing his leg he’s approached by Ben to inspect the security of a super-skyscraper in Hong Kong called The Pearl. At 250 stories and over 3000 feet tall, The Pearl is a city in the sky and needs its fire suppression and safety protocols approved before the insurance company, represented by Mr. Pierce (Noah Taylor), will insure the building. Will brings his family with him to Hong Kong since he will be a permanent part of the staff if his inspection meets the standards of The Pearl’s primary financier Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and moves them into an apartment in the tower. The initial inspection is successful and Zhao gives Will a tablet that will give him access to the building’s systems remotely. All that needs to be done now is the inspection of the off-site control center. That visit is put on hold when Will’s bag is stolen as he and Ben are riding the ferry to the control center. Will is slashed with a knife in the struggle. Ben takes him back to his apartment to get patched up when Will announces he put the tablet in his jacket pocket as they were getting on the ferry. Ben then shows his true colors and tries to take the tablet. The pair fight and Ben is mortally wounded. Meanwhile, a team of armed terrorists are spreading a chemical to start a fire on the 96th floor. The terrorists, led by Kores Botha (Roland Moller), start the fire and need the tablet to disable the fire suppression measures. An associate of Botha’s takes the tablet from Will and shuts down the safety systems, allowing the blaze to spread up the tower while also implicating Will as being responsible. Sarah and the kids are in their apartment in the tower and Will risks his life to get back in the building, save his family and keep the terrorists from reaching Zhao in the penthouse and taking something they want very badly.

“Skyscraper” is not going to win any awards for the complexity of its script or the overwhelming quality of its acting. The film also will not get any praise from those that study physics or engineering. “Skyscraper” is a big, dumb and loud action pictured that never lets facts or reality get in its way. It is a combination of “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno” with better special effects and the biggest box office draw in the world in the starring role. It shouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as it is.

Dwayne Johnson is great at playing the everyman if that everyman spent hours every day in the gym lifting weights and sculpting the body of a Greek god. Aside from his obvious physical gifts Johnson is also finding his way as an actor. While he’ll likely never win an Oscar, Johnson turns in a very good performance as a man struggling against impossible odds to rescue his family. Every choice Will makes throughout the film is to do what’s best for his family. From taking the job in Hong Kong to jumping off a crane and into the burning building, Will is focused like a laser on his family’s welfare. Johnson ably handles the more emotional parts of the film while still believably playing a reluctant hero. It would be very easy for Johnson to slip into hero mode and grimly tackle every nameless henchman and dispose of him quickly; however, this character hasn’t touched a gun in a decade and, while keeping in top physical condition, has been working a desk job. Will is out of practice as a warrior and he makes mistakes and gets hurt along the way. In classic Dwayne Johnson style the character’s injuries don’t prevent him from completing his dangerous tasks but he must deal with a re-learning curve.

Neve Campbell might be seen in the trailers as a damsel in distress in need of saving by the big, strong hero. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Campbell’s Sarah is a war veteran and she is more than capable of taking care of herself and her children when things begin to go wrong. While Sarah is faced with some outrageous situations that ignore the laws of gravity and motion she faces them with a reasonable combination of fear and practicality. She also doesn’t mind throwing a punch and mixing it up with a bad guy when necessary. By the end of the movie, Sarah could be considered the real hero of “Skyscraper” and it all makes perfect sense thanks to the performance of Neve Campbell.

“Skyscraper” is a movie best enjoyed if you don’t think about it too much. Just accept the notion of a 250-story building with a forest and waterfall in the middle of it and two giant wind turbines supplying all the power it needs. Then there’s the giant sphere on top: The walls and floor are high-definition screens that can show the cityscape all around making it appear you are suspended in midair over Hong Kong. Screens also rise from the floor making for a hi-def game of hide and seek where the object is to find the real person, not a projection. We are told it will be a popular tourist attraction once the building opens. To me, it would be interesting for about a minute then I’d be looking for the exit. There are also outrageous stunts that defy all the physical laws of the universe. The one that you know about if you’ve seen the trailer is when Johnson jumps from a construction crane into a broken window that nearly 100 stories above the ground. An Internet image search will show some very smart people have figured out the actual paths Johnson would travel if he tried the jump in real life. Even the most generous estimates suggest he would have become a greasy spot on the ground rather than continued his heroic mission. As I said, don’t think too much about the movie. It’s more fun that way.

“Skyscraper” is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. There are numerous gun battles with people shown being shot but none of it is graphic or bloody. Johnson’s character pulls a long shard of metal from his shoulder. A person is shown being consumed by the explosion of a hand grenade. Another person is pushed into the fire from a walkway. There is the threat of a child being thrown off the roof of the building. A person gets stabbed in the leg with scissors. Foul language is scattered and mild with the exception of one use of the F-word.

Critics have been less than kind to “Skyscraper” calling it a copy of “Die Hard” and Johnson freely admits this. In an Instagram post, Johnson said, “In a summer full of cool & bad ass Superheroes & capes, my town of Hollywood doesn’t make movies like this anymore. But I wanted to make a film that paid homage and respect to the classic action movies that inspired me and entire generations – DIE HARD to TOWERING INFERNO to THE FUGITIVE. A wounded warrior’s blood, sweat, love & grit to save his family.” Johnson is aware he’s making a copy of “Die Hard” and the other movies he mentioned. If you like it, that’s great! If you don’t, he doesn’t care. He’s Dwayne Johnson, the biggest movie star in the world today and he wants to make movies he’d like to see. If you have that kind of clout and can get a studio to put up a production budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $125-million then you can make as many homage pictures are you please. If they are as entertaining as “Skyscraper” then it doesn’t matter what movie you’re borrowing from.

“Skyscraper” gets five stars.

This week I’ll be reviewing “The Equalizer II” for

Other movies coming out this week:

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again—

Unfriended: Dark Web—

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Review of “Den of Thieves”

Los Angeles is the capital of bank robberies. On this day, it isn’t a bank but an armored car that is the target. A team of robbers led by Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) hits the truck with a precise strike meant to get the group in and out in a short period of time. Unfortunately one of the security guards goes for his gun leading to a shootout that kills all the guards, several cops and one of the robbers; however, the crew gets away with the truck that had no money on board. Investigating the crime is LA Sheriff’s department detective Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler) and his team from the major crimes squad. His work leads to Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr) as possibly having a connection to the robbers so Nick knocks him out and brings him to a house filled with his squad and some very attractive and scantily-clad women. Sending the women out, Nick questions Donnie, letting him know if they don’t like the answers he will be killed and dumped in the middle of nowhere. Donnie says Merrimen doesn’t tell him much and only uses him as a getaway driver. Nick tells Donnie to keep in touch and tell him what Merrimen is planning next. The cop and the bank robber begin a cat-and-mouse game with millions of dollars at stake and possibly their lives.

“Den of Thieves” is a gritty crime thriller that takes itself very seriously. It is packed with a cast of Alpha Males that strut, grunt and menace their way through a 140 minute movie, jumping from gunfights, robberies and domestic drama with little to no thought about how it will affect the flow of the story. It also has a complicated heist that acts as an anchor to keep everyone involved in roughly the same place even though the cops know the robbers are up to something and robbers know the cops know they’re up to something and it all becomes an intricate ballet that runs on booze and cigarettes. It is also maddeningly stupid.

I love a good crime drama. They work best when they are kept down to earth and focus on the broken characters on both sides of the law with the crime itself being something of an afterthought. “Den of Thieves” tries real hard to break the characters in a way that justifies their actions but only adds to the silliness of the whole film. The most interesting part of the film is the planning and carrying out of the robbery of the Los Angeles Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. It is a massively guarded facility with seemingly impenetrable security and with safeguards in place to keep you from spending any money you might actually get away with. It is a plan that, naturally, requires careful preparation and split-second timing. It is also incredibly dumb and unmanageable in about 100 different ways. Still, it is the best part of the film.

The worst part is Gerard Butler. I felt sorry for him and his portrayal of Nick Flanagan as a hard-drinking, hard-living detective that is so buried in his work he rarely sees his wife and two kids. His acting in this is best described as frantic. He’s constantly angry, agitated and aggravated and all apparently at the same time. He has a couple of scenes where he acts like a human being with emotions and stuff but those are few and far between. Most of the time he’s either sucking on a cigarette and chugging down a beer or beating up a suspect to get him to talk. It’s the kind of performance that is supposed to make the audience feel the character is running on a razor’s edge and could crack at any moment. It actually makes us laugh at the idea anyone would put this lunatic in charge of a law enforcement team. Butler’s performance is so exaggerated and over the top you’ll be rooting for the bank robbers.

Pablo Schreiber is actually very good as Merrimen, the leader of the bank robbers. Perhaps his more controlled performance looks great when compared to Butler’s whirling dervish but I found Schreiber to be a fascinating bad guy and a character that had some real potential. I also enjoyed the performance of O’Shea Jackson as Donnie. He’s caught between two worlds and knows either side will kill him if he slips up. He’s over his head and looks like he’s hoping to just survive long enough to escape his situation. Jackson plays the underdog role for all its worth and you can’t help but hope his character somehow survives and makes a better life for himself.

The story takes a huge twist at the very end with an explanation about how everyone involved has been played for a fool. I appreciated the effort to turn a film that is something of a mess into a surprising mindbender. Sadly, even the twist is something that isn’t handled that well and still requires such a suspension of disbelief that everything has to play out even more perfectly than you initially thought. While it does offer something of a better ending it still doesn’t make up for all the shenanigans that have gone on before.

“Den of Thieves” is rated R for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. There are some bloody shootings and beatings. There is a scene in a stripper bar and we briefly see some topless women along with bare backsides. Foul language is common throughout.

While it isn’t quite bad enough to be a guilty pleasure, there are a few things in “Den of Thieves” that are enjoyable. While implausible, the heist is pretty fun especially as it is being pulled off. The performances of Pablo Schreiber and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. are highlights. And if you want to see a clinic on what not to do during a leading acting role then watch Gerard Butler. Otherwise this film is utterly forgettable.

“Den of Thieves” gets two stars out of five.

This week the only new movie in wide release is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

I will be on a trip this week so there will be no review.

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