High on star power, low on plot

Skyscraper's Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson.
Skyscraper's Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson.



103 minutes/Opens today/2 stars

The story: Technopreneur Zhao (Chin Han) has built Hong Kong's tallest building. Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) and his family are its first residents, one of the perks that come with working for Zhao as his top safety and security consultant. When sabotage causes the tower to burn, Will has to find his wife and children and bring them to safety.

This is a story created without imagination and told without flair.

Created as a by-the-numbers disaster movie and a star vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, the best that can be said about this bland Happy Meal serving of empty calories is that it is not as preposterous as it might have been had it been helmed by, say, the king of blow-'em-up movies, Roland Emmerich.

Which is something of a tragedy because, with Emmerich, the over-the-top theatrics provided a distraction from stock characters and underwritten plots. Here, Johnson, Neve Campbell (playing his wife) and others have the unenviable job of doing justice to dialogue and situations that would not pass muster on a low-rated television series.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber made his name in comedies like Central Intelligence (2016, also starring Johnson) and We're The Millers (2013).

There is little to laugh at here - and that is the problem.

This is a loud, silly film that takes itself seriously. It pretends to have real stakes, when it is apparent from the start that Sawyer (Johnson) and his picture-perfect family will emerge unscathed, even if all of Hong Kong were to be engulfed in flames.

Some might blame the flatness on how this is a China-backed production, a product designed for appeal in a country where Johnson has a strong fan following. But that would be implying that Chinese filmgoers are unsophisticated, which could not be more wrong. This film, if anything, severely underestimates and patronises Asian audiences.

It does not, however, sink to the levels of ridiculousness reached by another big East-West production, The Great Wall (2016).

One redeeming feature of this work is how the supporting roles go to a solid crew of Asian and Asian-American actors.

Taiwanese actress Hannah Quinlivan is formidable as an assassin styled like a nightclub dominatrix, while Singapore-born Chin Han has unexpected layers to his character of tower-builder Zhao, adding a welcome touch of mystery to a story in desperate need of depth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'High on star power, low on plot'. Print Edition | Subscribe