Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson get in big scrapes in “Skyscraper.”

Despite a few thrills, ‘Skyscraper’ isn’t up to code

How might the pitch meeting for “Skyscraper” have gone?

“It’s like ‘Die Hard,’ but the building is much bigger, and it’s on fire! And, get this… the hero has got to get INTO the building before he can get back out!”

It was probably a great pitch and it could have sparked a good movie, especially since the “Die Hard” formula has worked many times (in “Under Siege,” “Cliffhanger” and others).

But “Skyscraper” is mainly a collection of three or four excellent, suspenseful set pieces surrounded by nonsense.

Dwayne Johnson stars Will Sawyer, a former FBI hostage negotiator who lost his leg in a mishap and retired. Now he’s married to his surgeon, Sarah (Neve Campbell), has two kids, twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), and works in security.

As the story begins, he’s hoping to win the trust of Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who has built the world’s tallest building, “The Pearl,” in Hong Kong, and land a job there.

Things go well, except that a group of mercenaries — led by Bortha (Roland Moller) — infiltrate the building, disable safety protocols and set it on fire. Meanwhile, Sarah and the kids, who were supposed to be at the zoo, have returned early.

So Will must dangle off the outside edge of the building, get back inside and rescue his family. Things get tougher when the bad guys kidnap Georgia, using her as leverage to get their hands on a secret device of Zhao’s.

“Skyscraper” is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who has a less than inspiring track record. His last movie with Johnson, “Central Intelligence,” was passable thanks to the star’s energetic comic performance. But “We’re the Millers” and “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” (based on a Michael Chabon novel) didn’t work. All have in common a kind of artificial defining of character; Thurber seems unable to make the characters human.

Though “Skyscraper” is only 102 minutes long (a snack compared to behemoth summer-movie lengths), it’s still slow to start, eating up running time with a largely unnecessary flashback about Will’s leg.

Other character development involves Will resetting Sarah’s phone and teaching her a valuable lesson that will, no doubt, help her later.

It’s nice to see Campbell back on the big screen, and happily her character is more resourceful than the typical “waiting, worrying wife”; she’s clever and can fight.

The villains are bottom-drawer types that try to out-cool each other by speaking in low murmurs with dramatic, evil pauses, and shooting people without warning. This, presumably, helps cover up lapses of logic in their plan.

As thousands of Hong Kong residents cheer on the hero, “Skyscraper” scrapes perilously close to the dreaded “white savior” formula.

Yet when Will uses a giant crane to swing through a window, or scales a building using rope and duct tape and gets inside a whirling turbine on his way to a control panel; or attempts to survive a “Lady from Shanghai” house-of-mirrors style shootout, the sequences of finely-crafted popcorn filmmaking almost — almost — bring “Skyscraper” up to code.


Two and a half stars
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor
Written and directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

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