Skyscraper (2018)

Released: July 13, 2018. Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han. Runtime: 1h 42 min.

Comedy director Rawson Marshall Thurber teams up for a second time with Dwayne Johnson after 2016’s “Central Intelligence. This time, it’s for his first action film “Skyscraper.”

Will Sawyer (Johnson) is now a security expert on assignment in Hong Kong assessing the safety of the world’s tallest building, the Pearl, at 225 stories tall, built by ambitious architect Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Sawyer’s brought in to make sure that the residential floors are as safe as can be.

He’s given a tablet that can control the building remotely, and when the building is set ablaze by a gang of mercenaries (led by Roland Møller), Will’s framed for it. He wants to clear his name – but first needs to get into the building because his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and children Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) are still in the building right near the fire.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer well. He’s a strong family man and Johnson brings his usual charisma. The film opens with his character as an FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader on his last mission as an explosion leads him to losing his leg. This is about 10 years before Hong Kong and he sports a prosthetic leg for the rest of the film.

He discusses it with one of his old FBI buddies, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), in the film, but talks about the mistake of not knowing the man had a bomb, but the bad luck led him to meeting his wife. Neve Campbell plays the wife well, but their chemistry’s nothing special. Will’s family is his drive.

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Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson in “Skyscraper.” (IMDb)

All that aside, a main criticism for the film is that it’s a lot like Die Hard.” It’s fair and inevitable, especially because of the villains and general concept, but I saw more similarities to “The Towering Inferno.” It has similar scenes where characters must get across things to escape the blaze, and it’s like an extreme version of that film for modern audiences. I won’t spoil anything about the villains, but I’ve really liked Roland Møller in everything I’ve seen him in.

The film’s predictable but I liked the ride. I also liked the setting of the film, The Pearl, which makes Nakatomi Plaza look like a normal house in comparison. Attractions like a three-story rainforest and spinning turbine things on the outside of the building are featured on the Pearl. The wonder of the turbine attraction made me think of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” The Pearl’s architect Long Ji is Wonka and his skyscraper is his chocolate factory.

There’s a pearl on top of the skyscraper that looks down on Hong Kong like you’re just in the sky, or like you’re looking down from Heaven, as Long Ji puts it. Most of the Pearl’s unique attractions feature into the film’s biggest set pieces. A few of these made my palms sweat which I thought made the “Skyscraper” have enough edge-of-your-seat thrills for one watch, despite it being predictable.

Score: 63/100

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We’re the Millers (2013)

We're the MillersReleased: August 7, 2013. Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter. Runtime: 110 min.

The opening scene of “We’re the Millers” made me anxious for the movie I was about to see. It opens with some of the most popular YouTube videos of the last few years. It’s somewhat lazy and quite random, so I wasn’t sure if I was about to see a haphazardly-edited, lazy movie. The idea of showing some of the funniest/most popular YouTube videos (“Double Rainbow,” “Surprised Kitty”) is clever, and a great way to get the audience laughing early. It’s clever since it’s not done a lot, and one would think an idea so simple would show up more. The movie is more clever than lazy.

The story follows a small-time veteran drug dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) who finds himself in a tough spot. He gets mugged by three punks who steal his stash (worth $43,000). It’s almost a fool-proof crime. One can’t go to a police officer with a thing like “Some guys stole my weed that’s enough to put me in jail for a long time.” His supplier, Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), tells him to go to Mexico to get a smidgeon and a half of weed and smuggle it back across the U.S. border. If he does so, he’ll get some money and they’d be even. This job is out of David’s league, and he can’t do it easily because he looks like a drug dealer.

He hires a stripper (Rose, played by Jennifer Aniston), a virgin (Kenny, played by Will Poulter), and a runaway (Casey, played by Emma Roberts) to be his fake family, because no one expects any funny business from families. Sounds easy, right? They’ll have to deal with a few antagonists along the way, because otherwise, the funny ride would be too short.

All of the members of the Miller “family” get their chance to shine, with Sudeikis being the funniest; Aniston being the sexiest. I’m liking Sudeikis more and more in bigger roles. Aniston’s roles have been getting edgy and vulgar, so I can’t wait to see what she does next, even if she isn’t as funny as she is in “Horrible Bosses.” Sexier, yes, but not as awesome. I’d like to see more of Will Poulter. He steals more than a few scenes – as he’s the one needing a family foundation the most. I love how Emma Roberts seems to be trying to shed her goody-two-shoes reputation, and she has successfully done so with her vulgarity – but it’s mostly thanks to a different, crazy role prior to this film. You’ll know it when you see it. All I know, she’s a great young actress.

There’s a host of funny characters throughout. Ed Helms’ Brad Gurdlinger is that one psychopath is an office building who could snap at any moment. (With a white ass name like Brad Gurlinger, I’d probably snap, too.) But he’s the big-time supplier who runs his business out of a big building that could be a more orthodox corporate business. And oh, he’s a big ole nerdy schmuck who has, indeed, killed people.

We're the Millers1The Millers also meet the Fitzgerald family, who’s actually a legitimate vacationing family, led by the always chuckle-worthy Nick Offerman (TV’s “Parks and Recreation,”) and Kathryn Hahn (“Step Brothers”). They come in for some of the funniest scenes, where director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”) gets to show some of his great skills and ability to get big laughs out of the audience. The actors also help out a lot by having the great timing that they do. And he directs a glorious stripping scene for Aniston, and what a scene it is. (For a movie that has many scenes set in a strip club, there’s a surprisingly low amount of nudity. Though, not many of us are expecting Aniston to get fully nude.)

With comedies, one must ask, “Is it funny?” Hell yeah, “We’re the Millers” is hilarious, with its amusing references and great homages. (The TLC homage to “Waterfalls” gets big laughs.) Another question that will probably weigh on peoples’ minds is, “How original is it?” This movie doesn’t strive on originality. It’s familiar and a lot like every other road trip movie. It’s also the most predictable movie of the summer, outside of “The Heat.” But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good time. The comedy has a fine comedic momentum. There’s one part in the third act where there wasn’t a big laugh for ten minutes (which comes around the 90-minute mark), but it finds its funny way about it again sooner than later. And the fact that it does have consistent laughs for the first 90 minutes is pretty damn good.

There’s a scene at the beginning where one of David’s old college buddies shows up (Thomas Lennon, who seems to be everywhere), and admits his envy for David’s bachelor, drug dealing life, since he has a wife and kids. In a predictable movie like this, I don’t think I have to tell you the purpose of this nice scene.

There are sentimental and nice scenes (sort-of like that) throughout the movie, between lots of dick jokes, but unlike “Identity Thief,” most ring true. And also unlike “Identity Thief,” you care about these characters. (This almost makes me sad that I gave “Identity Thief” such a high score – 72, to be exact; I watched it once more and it felt more like a 63.) “We’re the Millers” utilizes its simple road trip premise much better than most would think, and produces a hilarious ride.

Score75/100