2015, PG-13, 114 mins.
2015, PG-13, 114 mins.
Dwayne Johnson as Ray / Alexandra Daddario as Blake / Carla Gugino as Emma / Ioan Gruffudd as Daniel Riddick / Archie Panjabi as Serena / Paul Giamatti as Lawrence / Kylie Minogue as Beth Riddick / Will Yun Lee as Dr Kim Park
Directed by Brad Peyton / Written by by Carlton Cuse
SAN ANDREAS is the kind of disaster film that AIRPLANE mocked with remarkable glee 35 years ago.
That’s not a ringing endorsement of SAN ANDREAS' quality.
disaster films are hardly anything new, especially ones involving gigantic
earthquakes swallowing up Californian whole (see 1974’s Charlton Heston
schlockfest EARTHQUAKE). What
is new, though, is the unlimited scale and scope of these films,
and SAN ANDREAS just may be the finest looking genre film of its kind ever
conceived. There’s no
denying that cutting edge and costly visual effects were employed here and
no expense was spared to make the natural disasters in SAN ANDREAS feel
eerily real. The problem,
alas, with the film is that it contains million-dollar eye candy with one
cent plotting and character dynamics, which makes the film increasingly hard to
endure as its story progresses.
like films that lean heavily of pure spectacle and terror.
I really do. I also
appreciate the level of visual effects artistry that goes into many of
these types of films. Yet,
many past disaster genre pictures that I have relished in had a level of
self-aware campiness; they never took themselves too seriously.
One of SAN ANDREAS’ main foibles is that amidst all of its
building crumbling and tectonic plate shifting mayhem it truly forgets to
have fun at its own expense. The
whole tone of the film awkwardly straddles between being overtly solemn
and hysterically campy, never really finding a true and satisfying middle
ground. That, and SAN ANDREAS
is filled with many decent actors (some Oscar nominated) that play
characters so wooden, so cliché riddled, and so lacking in genuine
interest that you have to pinch and remind yourself to give a damn about
them. More often than not,
SAN ANDREAS feels like a near-two-hour VFX demo reel populated by
characters that are essentially puppets to the film’s orgy of
cookie cutter plot (amazingly written by the typically assured Carlton
Cuse of LOST fame) concerns multiple characters and multiple character
arcs, the first being that of Ray Graines (the beefy beyond recognition
Dwayne Johnson), a remarkably resourceful rescue pilot that has a sterling
reputation for being able to get into hostile and dangerous areas with relative
ease. Unfortunately, and
based on the sad and overused clichés of disaster films, he’s a
proverbial good man that’s been dealt with personal past tragedy that
still haunts him. That, and
he’s also facing divorce from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and struggles
to find a way to maintain a relationship with his teenage daughter
(Alexandra Daddario). Hmmmm…I wonder if a natural disaster will hit the city,
leaving Ray going on a one-man mission to save his family?
the phone! A disaster does
indeed strike, which is essentially predicted by Lawrence Hayes (a
slumming it Paul Giamatti), an incredibly brilliant scientist that’s
able to use fancy computer equipment and remarkable ingenuity to discover
when earthquakes will hit. His
recent crop of data all but forecasts that the “Big One” is about to
hit California, but only just before it actually happens. He postulates that major earthquakes will hit northern and
southern parts of the state, ones that will be so devastatingly powerful
that the eastern US will be able to feel them.
Predictably, hell does indeed break loose, leaving Ray separated
from his family and feeling personally responsible for using his resources
to find them (while, I guess, completely neglecting his larger
responsibilities as a rescue pilot, but never mind).
Even when Ray miraculously finds his wife, the two still
desperately search for their stranded daughter that was abandoned by her
SOB stepfather-to-be (Ioan Gruffudd), but she is thankfully befriended by two British
tourists while looking for a safe haven. Man, these Brits picked the wrong day to visit America.
let me be fair: SAN ANDREAS, as mentioned, looks jaw-droppingly
sensational. We get to see
obligatory landmarks like the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge (will
the movies just leave this one alone already!) get demolished and
reduced to cinders in completely authentic looking computer generated
effects. Hell, there’s even
a bravura aerial shot of massive section of the L.A. landmass bobbing up
and down like vast pendulum due to the incalculably large seismic
activity. Director Brad
Peyton (whom previously made JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND with
Johnson) clearly knows his ways around crafting epically staged sequences
combining practical elements with fake ones as good as any film I’ve
seen lately. When the Golden
State cities get demolished to smithereens and are torn to shreds in SAN
ANDREAS it all comes off as shockingly believable.
This film is a titanic achievement in visual effects ingenuity.
credible, alas, are the characters and overall plot mechanizations here.
SAN ANDREAS is more or less filled with lame brained and lazily
written character types and not flesh and blood personas that bare some
modest dramatic weight. Giamatti
is thanklessly good at delivering scientific gobblegook dialogue and make
it seem like Hayes is a genuine presence in the film, but the acclaimed
actor deserves better than the paint-by-numbers scientist role he plays
here. Johnson, the film's main
headliner, may not have range as an actor, but he certainly makes up
for it in terms of screen presence and charisma, which all on ample display in SAN
ANDREAS (even though – c'mon! – he seems far too insanely bulked out and
chiseled to come off plausibly as an ordinary Joe/rescue pilot). For
as good as "The Rock" is in the film –
giving his all with what has been written for him on the page –
his character is saddled with preordained character arcs that you can see
from a mile away, which has the negative effect of generating next to zero
tension in the story.
just know that Ray and Emma will heal their marital differences aboard
their aircraft as they search for their daughter.
You also just know that Gruffudd’s stepfather is
predestined to be an unsympathetic a-hole that will be dispatched by the
earthquake based solely on the necessities of the script and not on logic.
You also just know that the city of San Francisco –
essentially destroyed – will have all-too-convenient paths delineated through
the rubble for Ray and Emma to navigate through via motorboats to make it
to their daughter. You also just
know that Ray’s daughter will be able to use survival skills learned
from her father to stay alive when needed...that is until she’s about to
die, leaving Ray required to unavoidably make a last ditch effort to save
her life. And you don't have to have the forecasting powers of the
Hayes character to know whether or not the Grimes family will live happily
ever after before the film's end credits roll by.
All of this leaves me to ask one simple (but frustratingly obvious) question: Why can’t Hollywood spend as much time on richly designed characters and a workable plot worthy of our interest for these types of films? Really? Why? Few films beyond SAN ANDREAS have labored so hard to reach would-be emotional dramatic payoffs based on paper-thin plotting. Even when the film concludes with an unintentionally hysterical shot of a perfectly descending American flag over some random wreckage I found myself less moved by the film's jingoistic spirit and more moved to rolling my eyes with complete incredulity. There are no narrative or thematic surprises to be had in SAN ANDREAS. The film is just an unrelenting engine designed to deliver destruction porn. I think that I’ve just grown increasingly numb to these types of genre films. Considering our post-9/11 climate and the fact that the recent news over the years has been punctuated by numerous accounts of natural disasters causing unfathomable destruction…are movies like SAN ANDREAS even…dare I say it…fun or entertaining anymore? Hollywood spends an ungodly amount of money to make films like this showcasing people by the thousands dying. I would rather see more weighty films about how people live.
Now that would be novel. .