By Jon Gallagher
San Andreas (WB, 2015) – Director: Brad Peyton. Writers: Carlton Cuse (s/p), Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore (story). Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue, Colton Haynes, Todd Williams, Matt Gerald, Alec Utgoff, & Marissa Neitling. Color, 114 minutes, PG-13.
I really wanted to like this movie. The previews on TV looked good, Dwayne Johnson’s interviews on various talk shows sounded interesting, and I hadn’t seen a good roller-coaster of a disaster movie in a long time.
The problem with disaster movies is that they all follow a basic recipe: One part protagonist who warns others of some impending doom, two or more parts skeptic who don’t believe him, plus one catastrophic event that will set off a chain of events proving the protagonist correct and his skeptic(s) looking like idiots. It’s important here to mix in as many landmarks as one can find in the region where the story takes place, and destroy them with computer generated images (CGI). Combine ingredients for no more than two hours and serve to a specialized audience. In a movie from this genre, no one expects a great plot. No one goes thinking they’ll see an Academy Award worthy performance. They go for the special effects. If a plot gets tossed in that makes sense or the actors do a remarkable job (I’m thinking Jaws here), then that’s a bonus.
Although this one doesn’t fit the formula exactly, it is predictable enough that even a fraud like Uri Geller could have gotten it right.
Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is the star. He plays Ray (I’m not sure he even has a last name), an L.A. firefighter who specializes in helicopter rescues. He shows off his chops in the opening sequence where a girl is rescued from a car that’s fallen into a deep ravine. He is in the process of a divorce from his wife Emma (Gugino) who is set to move in with her new boyfriend Daniel (Gruffudd). It’s obvious that Ray wants to try the marriage again, if for no other reason than their college-bound daughter Blake (Daddario). We also learn, very gradually, that Ray and Emma had a younger daughter who Ray couldn’t save from downing despite his vast skills. This appears to be the major contributing factor to their breakup.
Giamatti is a Cal Tech seismologist who has discovered how to predict earthquakes about 10 seconds before they happen. While at the Hoover Dam, studying some readings, a major quake hits and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The dam becomes the first of several landmark casualties.
Blake and Daniel take off for San Francisco in one of his private jets (he’s a big time architect) while Emma stays behind in L.A., agreeing to join them later.
Ray is dispatched with his helicopter to the Hoover Dam while Emma has lunch in L.A. (for no other reason than she needs to be saved by Ray). The earthquake at the Hoover Dam moves up the western part of the United States and hits L.A. next, toppling many tall landmark buildings as well as the famous Hollywood sign. With buildings falling around him and slamming into the blades of his whirlybird, Ray still manages to save Emma (he never does make it to Hoover Dam).
On their way to safety, they get a phone call from Blake. The earthquake has moved up the coast and is now ravishing San Francisco. Ray promises Emma that they’re going to get their daughter.
The movie is a roller coaster. The protagonists are hit with a problem only to solve it and be faced immediately with another problem more immense and deadly than the one prior.
Johnson surprised me with his acting here. Professional wrestlers have to be good actors anyway, whether we like to admit it or not, so they can sell their character to fans. Rarely do they get a chance to delve this deeply into a character, and I’ll admit Johnson did a good job.
In fact, no one did a horrible job. I was concerned for the safety of everyone involved including an English brother duo Blake befriends while at her future-stepfather’s office.
My only sticking point was the end. I thought the end, especially the last line in the film, was darn cheesy. In fact, I’m a little surprised that the character that utters it isn’t wearing a cheese head made popular by Green Bay Packers fans.
I’ll give it a C+, dropping it to that from a solid B, because of the ending. Now here are some recommendations and caveats about the movie.
If you’re going to go see it, do so in a theater, preferably in 3D. Unless you’ve got a blue-ray player with an awesome sound system, and at least a 50-inch TV, don’t wait to rent it or stream it. This one was meant to be seen on the big screen.
As long as you go in knowing that you’re not going to get a solid plot or much else other than some spectacular CGI, you should feel you got your money’s worth.
Then again, our matinee for seniors is only $6.50 for 3D movies.