“Part Towering Inferno, part Die Hard and part test to see how much Hollywood baloney a physics-literate viewer can take before his or her head explodes, Rawson Marshall Thurber‘s Skyscraper is one of the most idiotic action movies to come down the pike in some time. Thurber’s sub-par script and the absence of a Hans Gruber-grade villain keeps this film well short of John McTiernan‘s enduring Bruce Willis crowd-pleaser, which celebrates its 30th birthday this very month. Nevertheless, multiplexes should welcome it with open arms.” — from John De Fore‘s Hollywood Reporter review.
“Ridiculous is the name of the game in Skyscraper, an eye-rolling (yet undeniably fun) action movie delivered with a straight face by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who recognizes that no one wants to watch a realistic rescue story (Cat Saved From Tree, say, or Backdraft) when they can have The Rock’s Wife and Kids Nearly Burned to a Crisp in Towering Inferno.
“On the scale that ranges from implausibly entertaining to entertainingly implausible, Skyscraper comfortably falls toward the compulsively over-the-top end, generating thrills by straining credibility at every turn, relying on Johnson’s invaluable ability to engage the audience while defying physics, common sense and the sheer limits of human stamina.” — from Peter Debruge‘s 7.10 Variety review.
“A wannabe Die Hard on steroids that makes The Towering Inferno look subtle, Johnson’s latest super-sized action vehicle is so eager to please it scores a few points off its daring hijinks, but nothing that can rescue it from a workmanlike quality that trades self-awareness for bland gravitas. The second vapid blockbuster in Johnson’s 2018 oeuvre following his inane Rampage, it’s a movie so dumb that it can’t reckon with its own stupidity, no matter how much Johnson fights to keep it together.” — from Eric Kohn‘s Indiewire review.
From a Pauline Kael New Yorker review, issue dated 12.30.74:
“In the new disaster blockbuster The Towering Inferno, each scene of a person horribly in flames is presented as a feat for our delectation. The picture practically stops for us to say, ‘Yummy, that’s a good one!’ These incendiary deaths, plus the falls from high up in the hundred-and-thirty-eight-floor tallest skyscraper in the world, are, in fact, the film’s only feats, the plot and characters being retreads from the producer Irwin Allen’s earlier Poseidon Adventure. What was left out this time was the hokey fun.
“When a picture has any kind of entertainment in it, viewers don’t much care about credibility, but when it isn’t entertaining we do. And when a turkey bores us and insults our intelligence for close to three hours, it shouldn’t preen itself on its own morality. Inferno knocks off some two hundred people as realistically as it possibly can and then tells us that we must plan future buildings more carefully, with the fire chief (embodied here by Steve McQueen) working in collaboration with the architect (in this case, Paul Newman, who appears to be also the only engineer—in fact, the only person involved in the building’s construction or operation above the level of janitor).
“The film asks us to believe that until the skyscraper’s official opening day the busy Newman never noticed that the contractors and subcontractors had cheated on just about everything. It asks us to believe that this tallest building in the world—a golden glass tower that’s a miracle of flimsiness, as it turns out—would have been set down in San Francisco, of all places. It asks us to accept Richard Chamberlain as a rat-fink electrical contractor (one has visions of him negotiating with the electricians’ local) and as the city’s leading roué (this gives one visions, too). But then this is a movie in which Fred Astaire, as escort to Jennifer Jones, needs a rented tuxedo.
“The audience’s groans and giggles at the bonehead lines of the scriptwriter, Stirling Silliphant, aren’t part of a cynically amused response, as they are at Earthquake; they’re more like symptoms of distress. There’s a primitive, frightening power in death by fire. How can we look at scenes of death and listen to this stupid chitchat about love and building codes, interlarded with oohs and ahs for rescued little boy and girl darlings and for a pussycat saved by a kindly black man (O. J. Simpson)? What emotion are we meant to feel for Robert Wagner (as some sort of publicist for the building) and his secretary (Susan Flannery), who have a little fling, get out of bed, and die hideously, the camera lingering on their agonies?
“Maybe Irwin Allen thinks that Poseidon was such a big commercial success because of its plain, square realism. But it was clunky-realistic, and the upside-down-ocean-liner situation was so remote that one could sit back and enjoy it. The realism here is very offensive.
“The movie doesn’t stick together in one’s head; this thing is like some junky fairground show—a chamber of horrors with skeletons that jump up. It hardly seems fair to pin much responsibility on the nominal director, John Guillermin; I can’t believe he had a lot of choice in such matters as the meant-to-be touching fidelity of the mayor of San Francisco (Jack Collins) and his plump wife in pink (Sheila Matthews, the producer’s fiancée). I’ve seen this loving, long-married couple go down with the Titanic so many times that I was outraged that they survived here.
“Despite the gruesome goings on inside the world’s tallest funeral pyre, a few performers still manage to be minimally attractive. Paul Newman has the sense to look embarrassed, which, in addition to his looking remarkably pretty and fit, helps things along. His son Scott Newman, who appears as a nervous young fireman, has his father’s handsomeness. William Holden has a thankless role as the builder responsible for most of the chicanery, but he performs with professional force.
“Inferno was financed jointly by Twentieth Century Fox and Warners after the companies discovered that they had both invested in virtually the same novel, and that a rivalry to make the picture could he double suicide; it was not exactly a case of great minds travelling in the same channel. The only disaster picture that has redeemed the genre is Richard Lester’s Juggernaut, which kidded the threadbare pants off the same clichés that the other pictures still try to make work.
“Though Inferno spares us a prayer scene, it has the gall to try to get us excited by repeated shots of fire engines arriving at the foot of the skyscraper, their sirens piercing our eardrums. And it actually carries a dedication ‘to the firefighters of the world.’ The Towering Inferno has opened just in time to capture the Dumb Whore Award of 1974.”