“San Andreas” follows Dwayne Johnson as a rescue-helicopter pilot who must travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco with his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) to save their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) after the San Andreas Fault causes largest earthquake of all-time. Brad Peyton directs.
Contrary to what you may think, it isn’t easy to make a dumb, fun disaster film; Roland Emmerich has been trying and failing for years. But “San Andreas” manages, for the most part, to be an engaging and visually awe-inspiring tale of mayhem and natural destruction, thanks to a charismatic lead and some steady direction.
On paper, “San Andreas” looks like just another Emmerich film, ala “2012” or “The Day After Tomorrow”. You have a huge, unstoppable natural disaster that is going to wipe out important cities, and a father figure must race through the chaos to save his child. However there is one thing this film has that no Emmerich film ever has: a larger-than-life lead actor holding everything together.
Dwayne Johnson is the perfect actor for this role, and the film needed someone charismatic and physically dominating like Johnson at its center, as half the film is him driving, whether it is in a helicopter, truck, or plane (he eventually rides a boat, too, to complete the “Will The Rock Drive Every Type of Vehicle?” game). Of the flaws this film has, certainly none of them are Johnson’s…fault. [drops mic]
[picks up mic in order to continue the review]
From a visual perspective, Peyton and his crew deserve major props. We’ve seen earthquakes tear down towers and tsunamis wash out major cities before, however there was just something about the way “San Andreas” is shot that really makes you feel the magnitude (ha. Puns) of the situation. There was one shot in particular (it’s in the trailer but no less awesome) of Los Angeles literally rolling like a flag on a windy day. It’s a massive shot, but intimate all at once, as if you look at specific parts you see buildings exploding or palm trees falling.
Now as much as I have talked this film up, let’s get one thing straight: this is still a dumb disaster film. The dialogue is cheesy, the plot and characters are cookie-cutter, and some narrative points are lacking. Example of all three:
Dialogue: when Paul Giamatti’s scientist character realizes the quake is about to strike, his colleague asks who they should call. Out loud I said “please don’t say ‘everyone’”. But of course he said it, and all that was missing was him turning to the camera and removing glasses before delivering the line.
Cookie-cutter: there is the resourceful daughter, the reluctantly divorced dad, the jerk new boyfriend; you name it, and the character is in here. And they all live about how long you think they will in a movie like this.
Narrative: both LA and San Francisco are rocked by massive earthquakes simultaneously. Instead of implementing real-world post-earthquake problems like fires, looting, or lack of supplies, the film decides it will double down and announce to the audience (thus erasing even the element of surprise) that an even bigger quake is coming, just so it can showcase more destruction (and it starts to feel like an afterthought by the film’s climax).
For what it is, I really enjoyed “San Andreas”, even as a single tear rolled down my face watching my precious Los Angeles being torn apart—er, I mean, as I got pumped with testosterone watching things blow up. Look, here’s the bottom line: if you are able to overlook the scientific impossibilities of the film (which start early on as the Hoover Dam is destroyed by a 7.1 earthquake despite being built to stand up to an 8.0—just saying), then this film is for you.
It isn’t art and it won’t rock your world (THAT WAS A DWAYNE JOHNSON *AND* EARTHQUAKE PUN!), but if you can overlook its clichés and by-the-numbers storytelling and look at it for what it is, “San Andreas” is solid. Rock solid.
Critics Rating: 6/10