Get ready for Irwin Allen on steroids! Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario and Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti star in San Andreas.
Director – Brad Peyton
Screenplay – Carlton Cuse
Producer – Beau Flynn
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language
Just as Caltech seismology professor Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) and his colleague make a breakthrough that allows them to predict oncoming earthquakes, a massive quake hits the Hoover Dam, destroying it in the process. But it’s only the beginning when Lawrence discovers the entire San Andreas Fault is about to experience whatever the tectonic version of menopause is, and when that happens, not only will the entire state of California be in grave danger, but even the East Coast will feel the effects.
Kinda like when I felt a 4.0 earthquake in Kalamazoo, MI, of all places that originated from God knows where.
That’s called life imitating art, kids. Oscar Wilde would be so excited right now.
Thankfully, the good Lord and, more importantly, Warner Bros. Pictures have divinely chosen Los Angeles Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and his family – daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) and pending ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) – to survive, and it’ll be up to Ray to ensure they all make it out alive.
‘Cause when you carry genes that are that stupid hot, it’d be such a waste to have them sink into the Pacific Ocean with the rest of California.
San Andreas, among many other disaster porn flicks, is what I like to call a “You only had ONE job!” film. Just destroy things; that’s all it needs to do. Would you look up a porno hoping for deep thematic elements, punchy dialogue and characters that transcend being just another stereotypical pizza boy, plumber, or teacher giving her basket-case student a “lecture” for not “performing” as well as he should in class? No, so likewise, all this is supposed to do is pump up the excitement, pound its victims like a bullet train ripping through them like a merciless, unstoppable force and then finish with the money shots.
Pop quiz: Was I referring to San Andreas or San Fernando Jones and the Temple of Poon?
Yes, it’s only got one job. Charlton Heston’s Earthquake was able to do it 41 years ago, so with what we’re able to do with special effects nowadays, it can’t be all that hard to do. At least it shouldn’t be, but we end up getting those that feel like they owe it to us to do more such as the excruciatingly melodramatic and tonally uneven Armageddon or Roland Emmerich’s soapbox sermons titled The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 (a film that had me thinking it was Emmerich’s return to form for the first half before it got all preachy on us). You’re not The Color Purple; just knock the damn buildings over.
So here we go again with another film that aims to go Bobby Brown all over the West Coast until America eventually overcomes it all at the end, giving the earthquake a collective middle finger despite California once again being leveled into the world’s largest parking lot.
And serves the Golden State right for their Lakers beating my Magic in the ’09 finals. Maybe you all wouldn’t be facing such wrath of Biblical proportions if the refs actually called Derek Fisher’s clear offensive foul on Jameer Nelson in Game 4? Just sayin’.
San Andreas follows the drill set by prior disaster films quite faithfully. Why does Dwayne Johnson have a daughter? ‘Cause someone needs to be rescued. Why is she hot? ‘Cause the tidal wave needs a reason to get her soaking wet. Why does the earthquake occur in the midst of Johnson’s divorce from Carla Gugino? So it can rekindle the flames of passion between them once again. Humans defy physics, an award-level actor like Paul Giamatti pops up to sputter the obligatory science gobbledygook, and it ends with a shot of Old Glory being dropped from a completely decimated Golden Gate Bridge (once again beaten and abused by Hollywood for the umpteenth time) while the “we will rebuild” scenes play in the background. Why? ‘Cause ‘Murrica! That’s why (as absurd and overly serious as Knowing was, I do give it credit for having the balls to finally destroy Earth for good).
The only way this film could kick the crap out of our senses any more with a helping of epic disaster porn Americana is if it had Chuck Norris sipping a victory brewsky (Budweiser, of course) while riding into the hazy, smoke and debris-covered sunset on a cigar-chomping bald eagle as a Metallica version of the National Anthem wails away in the background. Can’t get any more epic? Think again. How ’bout having the most epic BAMF narrator in the galaxy, Morgan Freeman, close it all out?
“And thus God’s wrath cleansed and purified the state of California of its decadent filth. Sometimes when the moon shines bright and the clear skies shimmer with a blue mystique on a cool breezy summer night, my mind often ponders if only the earthquake knew exactly what the Rock was cooking, it might’ve avoided being made to look like a little bitch by him… much like the bull queers that had their way with my good friend Andy Dufresne. Yet through it all, Chief Gaines stood tall and determined to not let his beloved wife and child go gently into that good night… Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Admit it. You read it exactly like Morgan Freeman.
The characters are all variations of cliches we’ve seen in these films before, and some of them make dumb and highly questionable decisions. Johnson’s the stoic hero and Daddario is the daughter in distress (although to writer Carlton Cuse’s credit, he does make her a little more resourceful than the typical character trope). Sure, Chief Gaines going through hell in order to save his daughter makes him the world’s greatest dad, and in a day and age where fatherhood is run by deadbeats giving Maury Povich all the job security he could ever ask for, that’s highly commendable. It also makes him the world’s worst first responder as he abandons an order to rescue civilians so that he can rescue his daughter instead.
Although if I had the chance to either rescue Alexandra Daddario or the rest of humanity, the rest of humanity can kiss my ass. If they’ve seen True Detective, they’ll understand.
Taking a page from Syfy’s “dickhead new boyfriend of the ex-wife” by-law, Ioan Gruffudd turns out to not only be a dick as the weaselly rich new boyfriend who abandons Daddario when the earthquake hits, but also a pussy for doing it out of cowardice. Mowing down others in order to reach safety makes him an asshole. Now that’s what you call a trifecta.
Syfy called, San Andreas. They wanted me to tell ya, “That’ll do, film… That’ll do.”
Paul Giamatti shows up to explain it all, and refreshingly doesn’t turn his scientific gibberish (“Blah blah blah blah blah blah tectonic plates.”) into a convoluted mess. Even though 90% of the time we’re looking back at Giamatti and thinking, “…Uh – okay… sure.”, he hits all the notes he needs to, and brings a little bit of dramatic heft to his cliched, dopey dialogued role, whose sole reason for existing is to deliver the money line. Yes, the line I was waiting to hear for the entire film.
“God. Help. Us. All.”
Lawrence: “… God be with you.”
Damn! So close… Wait… wait a minute… I’m getting word from the judges right now… Okay, they said it still counts!
Yes, it’s a giant cliche, but a lot of entertaining popcorn flicks are (Die Hard, Predator, Speed, Independence Day, The Expendables, etc.), and director Brad Peyton delivers the goods. No convoluted plots or sweeping melodrama (though there is a small subplot involving one of Ray and Emma’s dead children, which is why they’ll be damned if they lose their other one this time), just eye-popping action led by a charismatic star. Nothing’s surprising here, but Peyton and his team have strung together some first-rate destruction sequences without becoming numbingly repetitive or losing much luster, upping the ante with each setpiece as the film moves along.
So call me crazy, but I kinda had fun here watching the Rock save the day, and he’s a large part of why this film manages to work. A miscast lead will ruin a potentially good film quickly, even one that’s only about blowing things up and knocking things down, but thankfully that’s not the case here. No one’s banging on the Oscar doors for Dwayne Johnson any time soon, but he’s still proven himself to be lightning in a bottle out of all the WWE stars-turned actors by being able to accompany his immense charm and likeability with solid performances, and he capably holds it all together here.
The fact that I actually enjoyed this way more than a Cameron Crowe film just might make me weep.
San Andreas is an example of “turn your brain off and enjoy” popcorn filmmaking done imperfectly but still effectively. It’s candy for the eyes, but it’s anchored by a solid turn from Dwayne Johnson whose presence alone gives us a lead hero worth rooting for. The science may be as plausible as magic Tinkerbell pixie dust allowing us to fly, but whatever. This film accomplishes what blockbuster-sized disaster films set out to do, and provides the viewer with exactly what it promises. Nothing more and nothing less.
I give San Andreas a B- (★★★).
REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…
6/1/15 What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
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6/5/15 Insidious: Chapter 3
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