Directed by: Brad Peyton.
Written by: Carlton Cuse and Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Ray), Carla Gugino (Emma), Alexandra Daddario (Blake), Ioan Gruffudd (Daniel Riddick), Archie Panjabi (Serena), Paul Giamatti (Lawrence), Hugo Johnstone-Burt (Ben), Art Parkinson (Ollie), Will Yun Lee (Dr. Kim Park), Kylie Minogue (Susan Riddick).
No one walking into San Andreas is expecting great art. It is, after all, yet another film about a natural disaster – that follows the formula set out by Irwin Allen films of the 1970s (like The Towering Inferno in 1974 – that was inexplicably an Oscar nominee for Best Picture in one of the best years for American film in history) and brought back by Roland Emmerich in recent years (like in The Day After Tomorrow or 2012). These films are an admitted guilty pleasure for me, and normally I enjoy films like this. And there are a few nice touches in San Andreas that I liked. However, in an era when pretty much every blockbuster destroys entire cities, and bloodlessly kills off would probably be thousands or even millions of people, a movie like San Andreas feels even more warmed over that most films in this genre.
The movie is about a series of massive earthquakes that hit the San Andreas fault line in California, devastating the entire state. The movie mainly focuses on search and rescue helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson), who essentially abandons his job to save his ex-wife (Carla Gugino), and then the two of them go searching for their teenage daughter (Alexandra Daddario), who is stuck in San Francisco with a pair of British brothers – a love interest for her, of course, and an adorable younger boy. Between these scenes, we flash to Paul Giamatti, as a Cal Tech scientist, who can now predict earthquakes. There are also scenes of Gugino's new boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), who is essentially playing the Richard Chamberlin role from The Towering Inferno, but instead of being sleazy and fun, he’s just a boring asshole.
The reason most people will go see the movie is to see massive devastation done with state of the art special effects – and to be fair, those scenes are pretty impressive, even if it’s the type of thing we seemingly see at the movies every week. But if that’s all you want to see, than the film pretty much delivers what you want. I also appreciated how there is at least a few scenes that reminded me of Spielberg's War of the Worlds – which painted a fairly dark portrait of humanity in times of crisis. Most of this is undone however by the closing scenes, which are laughably patriotic.
I just wish though that the movie gave us something to care about in terms of characters. Unlike, say, last year’s Godzilla – which was about the powerlessness of humanity in the face of environmental disasters – this one paints the opposite picture. If you’re a superman like The Rock, then you can survive. What’s disappointing about The Rock in the movie is he seems to be taking the whole thing seriously. He’s at his best when he allows his goofy charm to shine through. Here, he’s basically monotone from beginning to end. The talented Gugino fares even worse, as the movie gives her nothing to do. Surprisingly, Daddario fares better than either of them as Blake – who at least has some interesting notes to play. Giamatti is the best of the lot – he knows most of what he says is simply there for exposition purposes, and decides to have some fun with it as he cashes his paycheck.
San Andreas is hardly a bad movie. It’s the type of forgettable summer movie that kills a couple of hours, and then is forgotten. It has zero ambition beyond that. I wish it did – at least a little bit. As it stands, I would recommend staying at home and watching your favorite environmental disaster movie – its undoubtedly going to better than this.