The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan’s review of “Skyscraper,” click here.
There’s a moment in “Skyscraper” when Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is standing on an impossibly high building about to do an impossible thing.
“This is stupid,” he says. He’s not wrong.
It’s not that anyone was expecting “Skyscraper” to be “Vertigo,” or even “Weekend at Bernie’s.” The plot is relatively simple: A developer in Hong Kong has built the tallest building in the world, one that looks at the Burj Khalifa and sniffs, “Hey there, shorty.” Sawyer is a combat veteran and former FBI agent who lost the lower part of his left leg in the line of duty. He has a nice family (Neve Campbell, plus girl moppet and boy moppet). He’s called in to give the building’s security systems one last once-over. There is so much foreshadowing, you should be able to catch it even if you’re standing in line for popcorn.
Of course, things go wrong, and Sawyer’s family gets trapped in the building while it’s on fire. But not to worry! He’s really good at stuff like punching, jumping and defying the laws of physics as he tries to rescue them.
Most of the movie is amusing enough, and there is one genuinely gasp- and goosebumps-producing moment, after which you are free to go pee. Or, frankly, to just go. Basically, “Skyscraper” meets but never exceeds expectations.
And Dwayne Johnson is worth so much more.
Johnson consistently delivers the kind of performances that must, by the code of film critics, be described as likable. And it works here; a less likable actor would have audiences rooting for the fire. He’s been the best part of a number of movies, including this year’s dumb and loud “Rampage” and last year’s surprisingly good “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” He does his job well — better than well. It’s just that he keeps doing it over and over again.
Do I want to see Johnson perform King Lear? No. In “Skyscraper’s” dramatic moments he has the emotional depth of … well, not a puddle. Let’s say a small creek.
But he needs to branch out, and he should look to the tree of romantic comedies. Not only because he’d be very good at them, but because he could (literally) shift the look of the genre. Plenty has been written about how the women in rom-coms are almost overwhelmingly white and skinny — women who aren’t are either the sassy black friend or the sassy fat friend — but the men have a mold, too. They also tend to be white and cute; for every Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally” there are 50 indistinguishable cute guys, 45 of whom are played by James Marsden.
A move to rom-coms would give Johnson something new to do, plus he’d loosen the tropes that have tied the genre down. He’s been repeating himself — and will continue to do so, as his upcoming projects are almost entirely action films, like the utterly unnecessary “San Andreas 2: Shaking Boogaloo.” (Yes, I made up the subtitle.)
Johnson has proven he can be a leading man; he just needs to scooch over and lead in a different way (just PICTURE a kooky dance scene). We know — and he knows — that he can bust through doors and windows and anything else you’ve got. Now it’s time for him to bust through into something new.
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