Tumbling Down: ‘Scuse me while I diss the Skyscraper
By: Matt Brunson
How impossibly charismatic is Dwayne Johnson? I wouldn’t go so far as to say I would watch him read a phone book, but an Archie comic or the back of a cereal box wouldn’t be out of the question. As for watching him in something as stridently generic as Skyscraper (two out of four stars), that’s a tougher call to make.
With the notable exception of that snooze-inducing Hercules movie from a few years back, the general congeniality and good-guy vibes exhibited by The Artist Formerly Known As The Rock have elevated many a questionable project. Here, the actor must muster all his appeal to float this action yarn in which his character, Will Sawyer, is a former FBI agent whose poor job-related decision ended up costing him his left leg. But life has gotten better, as he’s now a dedicated family man (Neve Campbell plays his spouse while McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell portray their kids) who has just landed an enviable position as the security overseer at The Pearl, a Hong Kong skyscraper and the world’s tallest such edifice.
Sawyer has barely had time to stop and smell the success when he’s framed for a devastating fire ripping through the building, one meant to cover up a crime targeting The Pearl’s creator, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Worse, Sawyer’s family is trapped inside the towering inferno, meaning he must resort to impossible measures to rescue them. Unfortunately, the criminals are also trapped in the building, meaning various games of “hide and seek” will ensue.
Basically, Skyscraper is a variation on the Die Hard template, but there’s not much here that will lead to many declarations of “yippee-ki-yay” from audience members. Oversized action flicks will always go for the gusto with bigger and better and crazier stunts, but the level of suspension of disbelief necessary to swallow the stunts on view here probably hasn’t been invented yet.
Those with acrophobia might respond to some of the sky-high action sequences, while the climactic skirmish will amuse fans of the classic “hall of mirrors” sequence from Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai. Otherwise, this is entertainment on autopilot, with plot pirouettes that barely matter, double crosses that can be spotted from across the Atlantic, and snarling villains cut from the most generic cloth possible. Ultimately, the entire picture is as artificial as Sawyer’s left leg.
AN OUTRAGEOUS AND uncompromising assault on capitalism, consumerism, racism and other unpleasant -isms that have come to define these United States of America, Sorry to Bother You (three out of four stars) stars LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius Green, a struggling young man who lands a job at the telemarketing firm RegalView. Cassius is having no luck landing any sales until an older colleague (Danny Glover) informs him that he must adopt and employ a “white” voice.
Cassius takes his advice (David Cross provides the Caucasian vocals), and it’s not long before he becomes a raging success at the company. His meteoric rise gets noticed by Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the CEO of a company (WorryFree) that promotes a modern version of slavery. Steve feels that Cassius is just the man he needs to take his plans to the next level, but is Cassius willing to sell out to such an unprecedented extent?
Written and directed by Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You is both bold and unpredictable, with radical characters (including Tessa Thompson as a fearless performance artist), a plethora of killer quips (Will Smith and Lionel Ritchie had best duck) and a smattering of ingenious sequences (the interlude where Steve forces Cassius to rap for a room of well-privileged whites is a mini-masterpiece).
It’s only after the potent first half that the film takes a turn into a truly fantastical direction. This gamble on Riley’s part will doubtless thrill many while turning off an equal number — personally, it didn’t wreck the movie for me, but I was disappointed that Riley felt such a lurch was necessary to bring his points home. The film’s structure — a simmering first half followed by a risk-taking back end — mirrors that of last year’s superb Get Out as well as the excellent “Black Museum” episode of Black Mirror, but whereas those challenging works eased into the outrage and thus made them believable and acceptable, this one steps too far over the line into occasional silliness.
Sorry to Bother You will remain one of this summer’s more memorable releases, but had Riley maintained a tighter grip on the reins, it might have resulted in a true cultural phenomenon.