Joe’s Blog

Skyscraper (1995)

June 27, 2011 6:14 am

Skyscraper cover


 One day we’ll get a decent biopic about Anna Nicole-Smith. One that ranks up there with the pinaccle of TV-movie gold that is The Jayne Mansfield Story (or, given that Arnie plays her husband, should that be The Chain Mansfield Story?). The parallels between Mansfield and Nicole-Smith are manifest and I’m not a historian so I’ll leave that to some Media Studies student to deal with in an essay entitled something witty like “Pneumatic Thrills: The Dichotomy of Breast Enlargement in Post-Feminist Entertainment“. Or something.

There is a Nicole-Smith biopic, called simply Anna Nicole (or for the hard of thinking, The Anna Nicole Smith Story on DVD)  but it’s a half-hearted, quick cash-in released within months of her death in 2007. And it leaves out several vital events from her ‘story’ including her breakthrough with a series of H&M ads, her lesbian affairs and, most shocking of all, her film career.

Well, I say career. It was more of a period of community service, really. Except she didn’t have to wear a hi-vis vest with ‘Community Payback’ written on it. In fact, she wore very little at all.

She started off quite well with an inspired cameo as ‘Za-za’ in the Coen brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy, and then an extended cameo in Naked Gun 33 1/3.

From here someone had the bright idea that she should, and could, be a star. Why not? She had a massive fan base of teenage boys who were too young to buy Playboy Video Playmate Calendar 1993 or Playboy Video Playmate Review 1993, and with Pamela Anderson about to hit the big time with Barb Wire, it seemed the perfect time to launch Ms Nicole-Smith onto an unsuspecting Blockbuster Video audience.

She made two movies in quick succession in 1995, both directed by Raymond Martino who had graduated (or rather gone downhill) from the Lee Strasburg Acting School, to bit parts in Fall Guy, to straight to video trash starring John Travolta’s brother, Joey.

To the Limit was first, a mafia/revenge/buddy/reluctant allies/shagging thing that I have been unable to find yet.

But Skyscraper sounded much more promising. Nicole-Smith plays a helicopter pilot who finds herself stuck in a skyscraper taken over by hostages. Wow! What an original idea… Nicole-Smith playing a helicopter pilot. That’s the kind of ideas that get people to the top in Hollywood.

Nicole-Smith is Carrie Wisk (pfft) a helicopter pilot who ferries businessmen around the many skyscraper helipads of Los Angeles (though all the different ones she lands on were clearly all filmed at the same place) like a rich person’s taxi service. She’s married to a cop, Gordon (though always called ‘Gordo’ for some reason). Her first fare is dropped off, and he goes to dingy backstreet to exchange a briefcase for a large wad of cash from some bad guys. The bad guys decide they don’t want to pay and instead (in the only decent action scene in the movie) blow up lots of cars with a rocket launcher and shoot uzis indiscriminantly in the street in broad daylight.

Meanwhile Carrie whines on, in her underwear, about wanting a baby. She and Gordo fight and he goes to work. But wouldn’t you know it, he left his car at the station so asks Carrie for a lift. And she’s still angry with him, so we get a hilarious scene of her flying REALLY badly to get her own back.

Gordo and his partner, probably called Deadmeat or Target, catch more bad guys nicking a huge microchip from an electronics firm, which seems to run its R & D team from a used car forecourt prefab. Deadmeat gets blown up by that pesky rocket launcher and the bad guys get away.

Finally, about 20 minutes in, we meet the main bad guy. But it’s not immediately obvious. What is obvious is that he’s going to be very annoying. Not only is he called Fairfax (a villain name cliche that goes back to early days of US soaps) he likes to quote Shakespeare. No particular reason for this. It’s what’s known in screenwriting circles as ‘a lazy quirk’. Fairfax is played by a guy called Charles M Huber, a Senegalese-German who sounds like a French Matt Berry. He may also be one of the producers (Charles Huber) but even imdb is confused about this, since their entry for Huber without the ‘M’ tells us he died in 1960.

He’s Carrie’s next fare. She drops him off at a swanky hotel/resort, where he picks up another case and shoots another guy, again in broad daylight (luckily, no one is in the bar at the time, not even staff).

Next it’s off to the HQ of the electronics firm. Through clunky exposition we discover it’s saturday, so the building is almost deserted. There’s an annoying security guard who looks like Sweetchuck from the Police Academy films, a hard pressed career woman, who’s son is riding around the office on his trikey like Danny in The Shining and a few other bits of cannon fodder, one of which is set up to make us think he’s in with the bad guys, but isn’t. But then he does a deal with them and gets shot. So that was all a bit pointless.

Fairfax is here to get the final piece of his satellite-controlling-doomsday-scenario-meccano set, but wouldn’t you know it Carrie stumbles in looking for a phone (the bad guys disabled her radio on the chopper) and ends up with the case.

And, FINALLY, the Tesco Value Die Hard shifts into, well, not exactly top gear. More like second gear. Anything else would probably blow their budget.

Carrie does the firehouse escape from the roof, only using a winch from a window cleaner rig instead. She starts a fire to alert the fire brigade, but rather than blowing up the building, McClane-style, she just sets light to a waste paper basket.

There’s lots of cat-and-mouse running around. Lots of shooting. Lots of screaming. And Carrie shows off her never mentioned kung fu skills. Seriously, if your character is a helicopter pilot, you really should mention early on that she’s also an ace kung fu fighter rather than just have her start chopping guys throats out of nowhere.

There’s also lots of falling-from-buildings stunts, which all look reasonable good.

What’s no so good is the moment when they DO try to emulate Die Hard‘s exploding building money shot by superimposing what looks like a small electrical fire onto a shot of the building.

Having a tiny budget may excuse some things, like the fact Carrie’s helicopter and the later police helicopter are clearly the same helicopter, with ‘POLICE’ badly letraset on the side (at least two letters are wonky). It may excuse the fact that no-one in this film appears to have had any acting trainign of any kind (of which more to follow).

But it can’t excuse such gaping plot holes as the fact the building supposedly has an impenetrable computer lockdown, but three people manage to get in through a hatch on the roof with no problems. It doesn’t excuse the fact we’re told every employee’s ID card has a tracking device built in, so the bad guys can monitor everyone (and not monitor Carrie), yet when Gordo finally turns up, he appears on the tracker.

It also can’t excuse the fact that the film can’t decide how many “floors of terror” the building has exactly. We’re told at various points it has around 80. The building doesn’t look that big, and the computer tells us that the roof is floor 23!

skyscraper 2

How many floors of terror? Even the makers don’t know.

And it most definitely cannot excuse a scene which was thankfully missing from the version I saw. In the UK, this recently popped up on Movies4Men, a low rent movie channel where I catch a lot of the crap I talk about on here. Despite a late night showing it was missing two scenes. The first, a gratuitous shower scene for Nicole-Smith early on. The second however is even missing (for the most part) on the UK DVD version.

Carrie is captured and handed over to a bad guy to “have some fun with” whilst they look for the briefcase she has stashed. I think you can imagine what “have some fun with” means in the context of this sort of movie. What follows, from what I’ve read and screenshots I’ve seen (NSFW), is a rape scene that seems to be included just to show off Nicole-Smith’s naked body. I’m no prude, but I like to think that in more enlightened times (ie not the 1970s) where sticking a rape scene in a film for cheap thrills was now considered not a cool thing to do. But hey, that’s just me.

The version I watched cuts straight into her lying on the floor with her top off pointing a gun at the bad guy saying “You wanna fuck me? Fuck this!”, shooting him in the balls and he flies back out a window. Justice is served. Sadly not on the director though…

By now, I’m sure you’re dying to know how bad Nicole-Smith is. Well, surprise surprise she is dreadful. And I mean, with a capital D. I don’t think I have ever seen a worse performance in a movie.

Thankfully, the makers seemed to agree and try to keep her dialogue down to a bare minimum. This does lead to whole sections of the film not featuring her at all (I presume this is why the beginning is so protracted, and far too many incidental characters are introduced later on). there’s a wonderful clip on Youtube of outtakes from Skyscraper, where she is being fed lines, and just has to repeat them (I particularly like her “leading your hairspace”).

Skyscraper has nothing to recommend it, despite the best efforts of Total Film and Daily Star on the DVD cover above. It’s mainly very dull, and watching Nicole-Smith trying to deliver believable dialogue makes you nostalgic for early Arnie films. Which is where we came in.

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