WASHINGTON — It’s no accident that The Rock has built himself into the top-grossing action star of our time. His charisma ensures every film makes “millions … and millions” of dollars.
This weekend, the artist currently known as Dwayne Johnson reunites with his “Central Intelligence” (2016) filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber for the action flick “Skyscraper,” offering a potentially unique character that’s hamstrung by increasingly over-the-top stunts.
U.S. military veteran Will Sawyer (The Rock) has entered civilian life assessing the security of skyscrapers, including a state-of-the-art structure in Hong Kong billed as the tallest and safest in the world. When the building suddenly catches fire, he must find those responsible and rescue his wife (Neve Campbell) and two kids, who are trapped inside above the flames.
Not only does The Rock look the part, exuding chiseled charm as the most electrifying man in Hollywood today, he also stretches his acting chops by playing an amputee with a prosthetic leg. In pro wrestling terms, he’s quite literally a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.
Despite The Rock’s admirable limping, in pales in comparison to last year’s masterful double-amputee performance by Jake Gyllenhaal in “Stronger” (2017), playing Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in what should have earned an Oscar nomination. As “Skyscraper” unfolds, your reaction to the gimmick will evolve into a missed opportunity.
Creating a rare action hero on one leg? What a refreshingly creative way to tell the story!
Winning a fist fight on one leg? Questionable but possible for someone as ripped as The Rock.
Climbing the entire side of a building? Pretty unrealistic, but let’s see where they go with this.
Running and jumping a giant gap in the floor? Eyes are rolling into the realm of the ridiculous.
Hanging by your prosthetic leg to avoid falling? Okay, now we’ve reached Hollywood insanity.
During each unbelievable feat, a giant crowd cheers him on while watching the action on a giant jumbotron below. I suppose these folks stand in for us in the audience, but as a guy in the control room pumps his fist and whispers, “Yes!,” we just laugh — and not in a good way.
It’s just one of the odd choices in a script that forces The Rock to talk to himself too much. Sure, someone in a high-pressure situation might talk to himself to stay sane, but it happens way too much here with such obvious exposition. The Rock’s outward expression of his inner monologue peaks when he looks out a window and actually says to himself, “This is stupid.”
Even so, most people go to action movies for the sheer number of explosive set pieces. Thus, your level of enjoyment here will likely depend on how many movies you’ve seen in the past.
A burning building might seem novel — unless you’ve seen “The Towering Inferno” (1974).
Rooftop terrorist shootouts might sound thrilling — unless you’ve seen “Die Hard” (1988).
Scaling a glass tower may sound slick — unless you’ve seen “Mission Impossible 4” (2011).
And a Hall of Mirrors climax seems visually dynamic — unless you’ve seen Orson Welles and Bruce Lee do it better in “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947) and “Enter the Dragon” (1973).
Oh well, at least the script offers a few funny bits, including tongue-in-cheek references to duct tape — if you smell what MacGyver is cookin’ — and one laugh-out-loud gag involving a sledgehammer. Move over, Triple H; The Rock just sledgehammered our funny bone.
Unfortunately, these moments are fleeting amid the over-the-top action. It seems everyone is rooting for The Rock, myself included; I just wish someone would write him better material. It’s getting to the point where we get the same results from every movie, from “Rampage” to “Baywatch,” walking out of the theater shrugging, “I loved The Rock more than the movie.”
Sorry, folks, this skyscraper crumbles. And yet, after all the smoke has cleared, after all the dust has settled, the “millions … and millions” of Rock’s fans will still be chanting his name.