‘Skyscraper” is a tribute to duct tape, and to Dwayne Johnson’s enduring appeal. The movie is great, outlandish fun because the star makes it so; he’s a soft soul in an action-hard body.
Mr. Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a security assessor, and former FBI hostage rescue specialist, who’s been hired to check out the world’s tallest structure, a swoopy new skyscraper—skypiercer, really—called the Pearl that’s nearing completion in Hong Kong. Soon after he and his family become the building’s first, albeit temporary, tenants, the Pearl is mysteriously torched and Will, battling flames and a phalanx of bad guys to save his loved ones, suffers terribly; at one point only a jumbo roll of the sticky, silvery stuff can hold his injured arm together. “If you can’t fix it with duct tape,” he says to himself while repairing himself, “you haven’t used enough duct tape.” The story has been duct-taped too; it’s “Die Hardest” strapped onto “The Towering Though Almost Unoccupied Inferno,” with technologies purloined from “Missions Impossible” and a motive for all the mayhem that’s blithely absurd.
Enduring physical punishment has always been a central element in Mr. Johnson’s body of work. Still, he outdoes himself here. Will arrives in Hong Kong minus a leg he lost to previous action. (In one of the best of the movie’s sight gags, his prosthesis proves to be a multipurpose appliance.) Then, fingered as the villain in an elaborate plot he can’t possibly understand—a Hitchcockian setup for a movie connected to the master only by vertigo—he takes a sensational leap of faith from a construction crane; is battered, bruised, burned and almost basted; functions as a human fly on a building that out-phalluses the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai tower in “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” and triumphs in a clever, op-arty climax that is literally all smoke and mirrors. (The film was written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed “Central Intelligence,” which co-starred Mr. Johnson and Kevin Hart; “We’re the Millers”; and the superbly silly “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” which was his directorial debut.)
No paterfamilias has ever done more for his wife and kids, though the wife in this case is not exactly a shrinking violet. Her name is Sarah, she’s played with unforced authority by Neve Campbell, and she happens to be a Navy surgeon on the cutting edge of the martial arts, with the equipoise of a circus acrobat.
There’s a nice symmetry to the narrative structure—husband and wife help save each other, and their young son and daughter, whether the parents are in or out of extremis. “Skyscraper” isn’t long on internal logic, or finesse. An extortion scheme is abstract, to say the least; fortunately it plays out mostly off-screen. A beauteous villain in black leather drops out for most of the movie. But the building itself is quite beautiful, with a rainforest and waterfall halfway up and owner’s quarters on the 220th floor that resemble the old TWA terminal at JFK. And the effects, in concert with Robert Elswit’s cinematography, are spectacular. By the end it’s all about Mr. Johnson’s easy humanity, and a superabundance of flammability.