If you took The Towering Inferno and combined it with Die Hard, took out all the interesting characters, and…had a bunch of Chinese people watching from the ground as if Godzilla were attacking…that’s this movie. My wife thought the crowds on the ground looked ridiculous, with their iphone cameras and cheering. I just wondered why, when the buildings collapsed on 9/11 and the debris went so far and injured many, how is it the police aren’t evacuating everyone around the area. My wife said, “That’s probably the least ridiculous thing about the movie.”
And as we (and my buddy Carl, in town from Belgium) talked about all the flaws, I realized this isn’t the type of movie a critic can pick apart that way. Also, I think we realized what this movie would be like when months ago, physicists took the scene that showed Dwayne Johnson running and jumping onto the building, and proved it was impossible.
The story is about a multi-billionaire named Zhao Min Zhi (Chin Han), who has built the biggest skyscraper in the world. It’s called “The Pearl” and it’s state-of-the art and rather impressive. The opening scene shows agent Will Sawyer (Johnson) making a mistake at domestic violence scene, and now he has a job inspecting buildings for safety, or something like that; I wasn’t paying the most attention because Carl bought me popcorn, and free popcorn usually distracts me. I’m sure even if I was paying more attention, the plot wouldn’t have made any more sense.
I was also distracted by just how often this movie showed its hand. We knew immediately which guy working with Zhao was a bad guy. We knew a guy handing out pandas and talking to Will’s kids would probably be trouble. We knew other guys were bad, sometimes because of obvious, lazy writing. Other times because the filmmakers played eerie music under them as they talked. Other times, we’d be shown a room that has a hundred screens come up from the floor. They project live images of the people in the room, confusing the folks in said room. You immediately think two things. First, why would this room have been created for this skyscraper? Second, you realize it was created so when there’s a fight scene in the 3rd act of the movie, it can be used to fool the bad guys. Spoiler alert: it was.
Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) is the surgeon who worked on him after that mistake in the opening scene. They have a couple of kids and are the only residents living in The Pearl. They have decent chemistry, and their fight scenes (yes, she has one) are kind of fun. Sometimes you find yourself enjoying the movie, and that creates a bit of a problem. If it was just ridiculously bad, you could make fun of it. Instead, it’s a little better than you think it will be, which just makes you more frustrated when a dumb scene comes along (which is about every 10 minutes).
So, you have to enjoy the fact that terrorists would start a fire in a building so that…they can get a thumb drive with incriminating evidence. And, you don’t have to worry about the Sawyer family dying because, well…do we really think any of them are going to die? Or will the terrorists just be picked off one at a time? In other disaster movies, you’re worried about a handful of characters. In this, you don’t have sympathy for the billionaire or the terrorists and…we’re pretty sure the Rock is going to be able to climb up the building, jump onto the building from a huge crane, maybe even dangle from a helicopter…with no harm coming to him. And even when he has to bandage up some wounds, you’re not that worried (side note: he gets much better use out of duct tape than Matt Damon did in The Martian).
So, the movie is totally preposterous on almost every level. But, it has a few cool stunts and lots of fun CGI. So often CGI is used poorly. It was done nicely in this picture. That doesn’t mean some of the scenes and set pieces don’t get repetitive.
This will likely be a guilty pleasure for most people, and the idea of getting out of the heat and enjoying a popcorn flick with the air conditioning, will make people happy with their two hours at the movies.
On another note, I read that Dwayne Johnson was the highest paid actor last year, making $68 million. If that’s true, and these are the movies he makes….Jessica Chastain, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, and Julianne Moore need to make $100 million.
2 stars out of 5.