Imagine Die Hard but with Anna Nicole Smith in the Bruce Willis role. Yes, that is the unlikely premise of Skyscraper (1996) a film whose sole creative act is to shamelessly ape its infinitely superior parent.
Nicole Smith plays a helicopter pilot who finds herself accidentally trapped in a skyscraper when terrorists seize the building to seize a computer chip which will allow them to rule the world.
The film opens with a clandestine meeting between the CIA and a shady businessman who wants to sell the computer chip. Despite the presence of aviator wearing CIA security men, no-one notices the suspicious looking lorry parking up nearby. A bunch of long-haired beefcake terrorists pile out of it and shoot-up the rendezvous in order to capture the chip.
However, the computer chip they’re after is comprised of four pieces which are conveniently scattered around Los Angeles. With a busy morning of appointments ahead of them the terrorists choose to fly to their various meetings using Anna Nicole Smith’s helicopter taxi service. I guess even terrorists want to avoid the notorious LA gridlock.
As she flies the helicopter director Raymond Martino repeatedly cuts to shots of Anna Nicole Smith’s hand wrapped around the chopper’s joystick. In the *ahem* hands of Russ Meyer this would have been an amusing visual gag. Here, the execution is fatally hamstrung between smut and embarrassment at such a cheap joke.
The long-haired beefcakes, attempting some kind of unidentifiable pan-European accent, takeover a skyscraper in pursuit of the last piece. By now Anna has rumbled their dastardly scheme and, with commendable gumption for a helicopter taxi pilot, endeavours to tackle them single-handed.
Along the way the rooftop plunge from Die Hard is reprised along with some air vent crawling action. The parallels between the two films keep stacking up although they stop short of having Anna Nicole Smith run barefoot over broken glass.
All the gunplay alerts the police who are prevented from entering the building by the skyscraper’s high-tech security system. The terrorists have also brought along an impressive supply of rocket launchers to further dissuade the police from interfering with their plans.
And when a police helicopter gets to close to the skyscraper the terrorists teams solitary female - a leather vest wearing badass - takes out the chopper with one well aimed shot.
The helicopter explosion itself is done well enough, a nicely realistic chopper fireball, however, the sequence lacks any kind of tension. The helicopter is purposelessly buzzing around, and never looks like its going to be anything other than destroyed. And no-one seems bothered when it’s shot down.
Exploding helicopter innovation
This is a shameless Die Hard rip-off. Innovation is not this film’s strong point.
Despite it’s obvious low budget some of the action sequences are surprisingly well handled. The opening alley gunfight being a case in point, despite bearing uncanny parallels to Clear And Present Danger made a couple of years earlier.
Various reviews of this film talk about a ‘hot’ shower scene with Anna Nicole Smith, however, this sequence has been cut from the edition which I saw. In fact the trailer I saw also includes clips of scenes not in the version I watched.
And whilst clearly never destined to be a classic this film could have been so much better. I can’t help but return to my earlier thought that in the hands of Russ Meyer this could have been a b-movie classic.