San Andreas (2015) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Archie Panjabi, Art Parkinson, Kylie Minogue
Director: Brad Peyton
Screenplay: Carlton Cuse
Review published June 1, 2015
San Andreas is a meat-headed special effects film through and through, basically just an excuse to deliver yet another disaster-porn epic, hoping that the titillation people feel when watching buildings crumble and things blowing up real good, plus the box office allure of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson (Furious 7, Hercules), will be enough to recoup a few hundred million dollars at the worldwide box office. Johnson plays Los Angeles Fire Department fireman and helicopter rescue pilot Ray Gaines, who ends up commandeering an LAFD chopper in order to try to rescue his soon-to-be ex-wife (Gugino, Sucker Punch) and daughter (Daddario, Hall Pass) before they're crushed in the rubble following a series of mammoth earthquakes the likes of which California has never seen before.
It feels like a throwback to the disaster films that dominated the 1990s-2000s, in blockbusters like Twister, Deep Impact, Volcano, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and a host of lesser ones. Some might also be particularly reminded of 2012, but on a smaller scale geographically. Or, perhaps Die Hard, with the hero trying to save his ex, and his marriage, only in this version, the British-accented character (Aussie Hugo Johnston-Burt, Goddess) is a hero, while a British actor (Welshman Ioan Gruffudd, Playing It Cool) dons an American accent to play the closest thing the movie has to a bad guy, architect boyfriend to The Rock's ex, set to unleash the biggest erection in San Francisco. Essentially, things are destroyed into bits while people try to flee the scene, usually right in the nick of time, and almost always in the least bloody ways possible and still show body parts being impaled or crushed by falling debris. Buildings topple over, and over, and over, while streets crack and crumble from underneath. It's impressive, but redundant, and at no time does it ever raise the heart rates, regardless of how many millions of lives may be in jeopardy.
San Andreas is a tedious movie without anything of value to say, merely a product for people to see lots of computer generated effects shots of well-known California cities and landmarks, like the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge, crumbling to near non-existence. If that's all you're looking for, it certainly delivers, but not much more than that, as the script is atrocious, the characters thinly defined, and the direction downright epileptic. The Rock is there, and he has the screen presence and macho charisma you're looking for, but that's about it, in an effort where he takes a back seat to the effects work. The female supporting cast of Gugino and Daddario are merely there for eye candy, with both seemingly cast for their impressive 'bounce factor' displayed whenever they run from calamity, which is quite often.
The characterizations don't exactly lend to great heroism, even with a major action hero at the forefront. Gaines is shown as using the helicopter solely to use to save his own family, content to leave just about everyone else to fend for themselves. In a later scene, Gaines' daughter Blake also steals equipment from a fire truck for her own use, when it clearly could have been left for others beyond just what they need it for. Everything in the script seems to require the characters to say what they're thinking or about to do aloud, for fear we won't understand due to the lack of explanation of what we are shown, or not shown, as it were. It's unintentionally campy nonetheless, to the point where some members of the audience I screened the film with, including myself, were laughing at ludicrous bits of dialogue throughout.
Director Brad Peyton, who you'd think wouldn't have the kind of industry gravitas to be handed the reins of a $100 million production, doesn't know what to do except mostly get people running around on the hope that the special effects and sound work will help make things look and sound exciting behind them. He certainly doesn't do a great job eliciting gripping performances by his actors, despite working with The Rock before in Journey 2, as they are already handcuffed by having to perform all manner of emotions to things they can neither see nor hear, with all of their surrounding being filled in when the actual filming has wrapped.
Perhaps if there was a much better script (Carlton Cuse ("Bates Motel") might have done a great job with TV's "LOST", but he's clearly lost on what to do here) and more emphasis on making things feel realistic, San Andreas might have emerged as a true entertainment, instead of just pornography of destruction and an excuse for Dwayne Johnson fans to get out to the theaters. If we truly cared about these characters, and if they behaved in a manner that normal human beings might, this could be a pretty exciting move to behold, instead of just one that is interesting visually but completely vacant intellectually. An attempt is there to try to give a back story to the defunct marriage that involves the death of a daughter that caused the couple to drift apart, but it's as artificial and pointless to the rest. It's hard to care about the plight of someone who is dead and buried from years back when millions of people are surely losing the lives of their own loved ones all along the San Andreas fault line.
And speaking of faults, it's not the San Andreas Fault where the true origin of disaster lies in this story; the fault lies mostly in the 'creative' minds who concocted this uninspired disaster flick.
©2015 Vince Leo