By: Kevin Jordan
It wasn’t me. It was the one-legged man.
“It is good to see the Chinese are embracing the shittiest aspects of American cinema, just like us Americans.” – Me, minutes after the conclusion of Skyscraper.
Before you start furiously typing a comment about how Skyscraper is not meant to be an Oscar winner, I know. Calm down. My expectations for this movie started and ended with Rampage, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s previous film. But I’m pretty sure this movie was made primarily for a Chinese audience. It was produced by two Chinese film companies (Legendary Pictures and Perfect World Pictures) with an assist from Beau Flynn and Johnson’s self-owned production companies (Flynn Picture Company and Seven Bucks Productions, respectively), is set in Hong Kong, features two Hong Kong-American Actors (Byron Mann, Tzi Ma), a Taiwanese actress (Hannah Quinlivan), and a Singaporean actor (Chin Han). The only reason the entire film was not entirely in Mandarin is because Americans eat up shitty action movies, too.
As a human who understands the basic principles of security and film, Skyscraper is pretty dumb. As a security professional at my day job and film critic in the moonlight, fuck everything in this movie. Before looking up the cast and crew, I thought for sure the writing credits would be as long as the cast; that we could chalk up this garbage to the broken trash compactor that typically serves as the screenplay machine for big, dumb blockbusters (coincidentally, many of which feature Johnson). To my amazement, Rawson Marshall Thurber is listed as the sole writer (also serving as producer and director), which means Thurber accomplished by himself what normally requires several writers who have given up on life.
(SPOILER ALERT – I am going to ruin this film by describing the shitty screenplay and even shittier portrayal of security. You are welcome.)
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, an ex-special soldier/FBI agent turned one-legged security consultant after getting blown up during a botched hostage-rescue attempt. Do not worry about Will – he marries the surgeon who fixes him up, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and has two kids with her. Plus, his friend and partner, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), also survived the explosion, goes out of his way to throw work to Will while reassuring Will that he does not blame Will for the explosion, and listens intently when Will gives thanks for the incident being his meet-cute with Sarah. Nevermind that the incident resulted in the deaths of two children, their mother and father (the hostage-taker), and several of Will’s fellow soldiers (presumably) because Will sure did not mind.
After seeing Will attach his prosthetic leg prior to going to a meeting at “The Pearl” a.k.a. Skyscraper, I spent nearly the entire movie wondering how they were going to use the leg as a deus ex machina because Thurber definitely read a Screenplay for Dummies book once. This would become a common theme for me as the movie introduced one specific, but dumb thing after another (no, wait, that is “specifically dumb”) with the obvious intention of bringing that back around to aid the heroes at some point.
Will has been hired by Zhao Long Ji (Han), who owns the building, to perform a final safety and security assessment. If Will’s assessment approves the building, Zhao can procure insurance for the building and open the residential sections to buyers. This is roughly the point at which my security brain activated. He approves everything in the building and has only to assess the building’s offsite control center. Zhao hands Will a tablet which gives Will administrative privileges over every system in the building…at which point Will should have handed Zhao back the tablet and failed the assessment for giving a near stranger complete and total control over everything in the building. Instead, Will literally praises the building as “Fort Knox” and I died a little inside. In short, Will is so bad at his job that he should be put in jail for endangering people’s lives.
I wish that I could have turned off my security brain, but my brain just was not having it. For one, the tablet does not even use multifactor authentication, just a facial scan of Will’s face. For two, once logged in, it never turns off because neither Zhao nor Will know what screenlock is. For three, Zhao brags about all of the security he has implemented, including knowing a lot of details about Will and Will’s family, yet doesn’t know the insurance representative, Mr. Pierce (Noah Taylor), standing next to him is a known associate of Zhao’s archenemy, Lores Botha (Roland Moller). This, despite the police having at least one photo of Pierce and linked Pierce to Lores. For four, why the hell would you have the control center for the building in a completely different building more than a mile away (which the movie decides to tell us the distance to down to the hundredth of kilometer)? Now you have a second building requiring security and what happens if a bad guy cuts the connection between the two buildings? There are more, but I need to turn off my security brain to tell you how stupid the bad guys are.
Led by Lores, the bad guys set fire to the 96th floor. They also steal the tablet so they can take control of the building, lock Zhao out of the system, and shut off the fire suppression system so the building will be destroyed. The other goal is to steal a thumb drive from Zhao, which Zhao keeps locked in a safe in the penthouse, but will have to remove when he realizes the building is going to burn down. On the surface, this sounds fairly straightforward, but the details seem like they were thought out by Hans Gruber’s brain-damaged cousin.
For starters, even though the building is open to the public and they could have simply walked right in (it has dozens of commercial retail stores on the lower half which are evacuated after the fire breaks out), Lores and team infiltrate the building by burrowing a tunnel into the fifteenth subbasement because no movie had ever dug a hole to China before. Second, after hacking the system to give them control, Xia shoots their hacker in the face, despite the hacker being on their team. Third, Lores is stymied when Zhao locks himself behind the ten-inch titanium doors in his penthouse. Despite Xia being given full admin access of the building and despite the audience literally being shown Zhao having zero control of his penthouse after the hack, Xia exclaims that she cannot open the doors because the penthouse system is self-contained and under Zhao’s control. If only they had a hacker on the team. Fourth, Lores has no contingency plans to account for any hiccups, but is bailed out by sheer dumb luck that Will’s family is in the building to be used as hostages (Lores’ plan literally had them purposely out of the building by Ben), that Will is not killed by Xia when they steal the tablet, that Will is not captured by the police after a shootout with the cops, and that Will climbs a one hundred story construction crane and jumps thirty feet through the air, through a broken window on the hundredth floor to rescue his family. On one fucking leg, mind you.
(Side note: that is the best dig-a-hole-to-China joke I could come up with. I am sure you, dear reader, can do better. Reward my faith, Internet.)
On the bright side, the audience around me in the theater was well aware of how stupid was Skyscraper. Throughout the film, people were laughing derisively at what they were seeing on screen, as was I. When Will picks up a statue to try to break a window in a skyscraper? Giggles. When Sarah reboots the system with the still-logged-in tablet to regain control of the fire-suppression system (even though the hacker told us how he encrypted everything before eating a bullet)? Guffaws. When Will holds the end of a bridge up to keep it from collapsing? Belly-laughs. When Will keeps extolling the virtues of duct tape? Cackles. When Will is swinging upside-down from a rope and held only by a knot around his fake leg? Near-death chokes of uproarious laughter.
Even if we forgive all of that (we cannot) and ask if the movie was at least fun, the answer is a resounding “is it over yet?” The film is proud that The Pearl is over 3,500 feet tall and filled with the wonders of Narnia (or something). The entire movie should have featured Will battling through a gauntlet of bad guys as he works his way through a gauntlet of building insanity to get to the top floor. After all, the movie repeats several times that Will knows the building better than anyone. Yet, we know so little of the building and its features and so few bad guys that Skyscraper might as well have been Tri-Level.
As I drove home from the film, I openly pondered how any screenplay as obviously idiotic as this could get past reviews and edits, let alone be approved for actual filming. My working theory is that it went something like this:
Thurber: Here is my finished screenplay.
Studio Executive: Seems a little too much like Die Hard.
Thurber: What if we cast The Rock and make it stupid?
Studio Executive: Where is my checkbook?
Rating: Ask for eighty-seven Chinese Yuan back.