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Skyscraper Bites

The Rock's latest closely resembles a classic, while Ideal Home charms

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Skyscraper A show of hands then, for anyone in attendance who hasn't seen Die Hard (1988). I'd be inclined to ask you all to leave, as it would seem we have very little to talk about. Seeing as you are the ostensible intended audience for writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber's "homage," though, I guess you ought to stick around. Partially because you are more likely to enjoy Skyscraper than the rest of us and partially because you clearly need to be reminded to see Die Hard. See Die Hard, it's great. It's the best Christmas movie ever.

To call this an homage to that earlier classic might require some qualification, as I tend to think homage requires an acknowledgment of the original and perhaps even a nod to the audience members participating in the shared celebration of influence. But this feels more like a bit of a dodge, lifting elements from a landmark of action cinema and hoping that the passage of three decades will keep people from noticing. Alternatively, maybe there's the hope that those of us who do notice will credit Thurber as a student of his craft; not likely. While Skyscraper is competently made and exciting enough to keep an audience engaged, its pilfering of that remarkable predecessor, a movie well-crafted enough to be nearly timeless, is too central, too pointed but unacknowledged in context to ignore.

FBI hostage rescue specialist Will Sawyer's (Dwayne Johnson) career ends prematurely on a note of tragedy. He is left with a prosthetic lower leg and married to the Navy trauma surgeon who saved his life (Neve Campbell). They have young twins and he embarks on a next chapter in the private sector, as a security analyst. With a good word from one of his former teammates (played by an under-used Pablo Schreiber), he wins a contract with the builder of the world's tallest skyscraper, in Hong Kong. Called the Pearl, the building is the passion project of Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and a marvel of architectural and technological innovation. Will and his family are hosted as the first guests in the Pearl's yet to be unveiled residential section. It's nearly impenetrable, except by the team of international terrorists who disable the monolith's security measures all too easily, then set the whole thing on fire so we can have two acts of The Rock jumping through said fire and climbing around on the outside of a mile-high structure.

Like the entire premise of the movie, the crucial conflict driving the plot is a bit of a MacGuffin, serving mainly to set up action sequences and create puzzles for the Sawyers to solve (Sarah gets taken out of the action fairly early on, but — credit where it's due — still gets to demonstrate some agency and fortitude, albeit at a distance). Just as the Pearl exists within this narrative to become the stage for an action play, the nebulous extortion through-line ostensibly driving the narrative exists only to get the bad guys in the door. And those bad guys, lead by the exotically named but ill-defined Kores Botha (Roland Møller), nefarious super-soldiers who are no match for our hero, expendable to a man, likewise really only serve as storytelling cannon fodder.

Which is all well and good, for the right audience. Skyscraper has impressive visual effects, some vertiginous camera work, and of course a capable and charismatic star. It looks expensive, and succeeds in creating an immersive, exciting atmosphere. But in its references to Die Hard (among others; there's a whole "Hall of Mirrors" sequence that's derivative of derivative), it reminds us that action movies can strive to something greater than the cumulative effect of their CGI and pyrotechnics. If the craft is fully in place, from the development of secondary characters to the set decoration, an action movie can transcend the limitations of genre. Skyscraper, by contrast, defines itself by those limitations. PG-13. 102m. BROADWAY. FORTUNA. MILL CREEK.

IDEAL HOME If I'm being honest, I couldn't really be bothered to see Hotel Transylvania 3. Somebody let me know what I missed. Instead I went home and rented Ideal Home on Amazon and I support my decision.

When troubled dad Beau (Jake McDorman) gets locked up, again, he sends his son Angel, who prefers to be called Bill (Jack Gore) off with vague instructions to find Beau's father Erasmus (Steve Coogan). Find him he does, in the midst of a decaying relationship and a period of professional ennui. Erasmus, a celebrity chef in Santa Fe, has been living with his producer Paul (Paul Rudd) for ten years, and making life difficult throughout. He drinks too much, doesn't work enough, and fends off advancing age with parties and fur coats and ostentatious cowboy hats. Bill's arrival points up the trouble spots in the men's relationship, bringing them closer to one another while also driving them apart.

It's a well-observed, charmingly played little family dramedy, sure-footed in its portrait of men of a certain age. It's small and smart and heartwarming; Skyscraper's opposite, in a number of ways. NR. 91M. AMAZON.

—John J. Bennett

See listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

THE DARK KNIGHT. The 2008 blockbuster that launched a million gravelly-voiced imitations and blunted lipstick tips. PG-13. 152M. BROADWAY.

EQUALIZER 2. Denzel Washington kicks some ass in what appears to be a #MeToo inspired subplot spoiled by the trailer. We'll take it. R. 121M. BROADWAY. FORTUNA. MILL CREEK.

LEAVE NO TRACE. Debra Granik, writer and director of Winter's Bone, delivers another quality indie, this one about a father and his daughter whose life living rough in the Pacific Northwest is interrupted by the mixed blessing of social services. PG. 119M. MINOR.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN. Cher crashes the party for this ABBA-drenched musical about old loves, new loves, good friends and unrelenting, irresistible camp. PG-13. 114M. BROADWAY. MILL CREEK.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. Hip-hop legend Boots Riley might finally become a household name with his directorial debut, a science fiction-tinged satire about a telemarketer (Cassius Green, played by Atlanta star Lakeith Stanfield) who taps into success by finding his "white voice." R. 105M. BROADWAY. MINOR.

50TH ANNIVERSARY RESTORATION OF YELLOW SUBMARINE. Beatles completists will want to check out this remastered version of the 1968 feature-length cartoon with music by the Fab Four. G. 90M. MINOR.

Continuing

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. Tiny Paul Rudd tackles big problems with his new, flying partner (Evangeline Lilly). A less portentous Marvel movie than we've seen of late. PG-13. 125M. BROADWAY. FORTUNA. MILL CREEK.

THE FIRST PURGE. Horror franchise prequel in case you need to be reminded what happens when we elect leadership to "shake things up." R. 112m. BROADWAY.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD. How about some Nick Offerman being an adorable widower and trying to start a band with his fictional (and also adorable) daughter, played by Kiersey Clemons before she leaves for college? PG-13. 97m. MINIPLEX.

HOTEL TRANSLYVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION. Dracula and his posse try to unwind with a cruise. What's the worst that could happen? PG. 97m. BROADWAY. FORTUNA. MILL CREEK.

THE INCREDIBLES 2. This fun, clever and funny sequel is worth the wait, with the returning cast and the right villains for our times. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. PG. 118m. BROADWAY. FORTUNA. MILL CREEK.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM. Nodding to its predecessors and balancing humor, horror and heart, this dino sequel is more than a big, dumb blockbuster. PG-13. 128m. BROADWAY. FORTUNA. MILL CREEK.

MOUNTAIN. Narration by Willem Dafoe. A score by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Dizzying shots of some of the world's highest peaks and the people who climb them. Worth seeing on the big-screen, yeah? This is the second documentary by director Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa, 2015). PG. 74m. MINIPLEX.

SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO. Director Stefano Sollima gradually rachets up the tension in this bloody but satisfying sequel to 2015's Sicaro. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro co-star as CIA anti-heroes stirring a war between cartels on the Mexican border. R. 122m. BROADWAY

WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR. No gotchas or revelations in this love letter of a documentary about a sweet, gentle man and his message on the transformative power of kindness. PG-13. 94m. MINOR

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill and Linda Stansberry

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