“San Andreas” Is Terrible to a Fault

[NOTE: I reviewed this on the radio on June 5, along with Entourage” and “Spy.” The reviews start at 38min. on the podcast of the show.]

San Andreas

San Andreas (Brad Peyton, 2015)

In the first 30 minutes of San Andreas, in spite of the painfully bad expositional dialogue on display, it is possible to believe that the special effects and rescue stunts of this new disaster film will at least provide enough entertainment value to justify the 110 minutes of our time. Dwayne Johnson (Furious Seven) – formerly known as “The Rock,” and usually a pleasure to watch – whose bulging physique is a special effect in and of itself – plays Ray, a rescue pilot for the City of Los Angeles. The film opens with an exciting (if incredibly dumb) set piece where he pulls a scattered young woman out of a ravine, and then moves briskly to Caltech, were the scientist played by Paul Giamatti (Win Win) is on the brink of discovering how to predict earthquakes. Too late, though, because there’s a big one already about to hit California, all along the coast, from Hollywood to San Francisco. And though the first shots of massive widespread destruction look a bit too digitally mastered to feel real, there’s an early well-staged sequence, where Ray flies into the collapsing metropolis to save his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Emma – played by Carla Gugino (Match) – that shoots enough adrenaline into our system to raise our hopes that this won’t totally suck.

But then, sadly, the film collapses as easily as the onscreen skyscrapers, proving that no script foundation is strong enough to withstand the dual inanities of terrible characterizations and dialogue. What seems like it could be a good idea – putting our attention squarely on one small group, so that we have actual human beings to care about – backfires when those folks just aren’t that interesting. And since the film has issues with tone and is often unintentionally comic (funny? tragic? tragically funny?), I’m choosing to call it “Warner Brothers’ Vacation” (sorry, National Lampoon), since the entire movie ends up being about how one broken family mends itself. Though the poster (above) promises that this is the cinematic environmental catastrophe we’ve been waiting for, by the end, all of Giamatti’s grandiose pronouncements about the need to understand nature are forgotten as Ray, Emma and their daughter Blake – played by Alexandra Daddario (“True Detective“), who belongs to a completely different gene pool from her ostensible parents, but no matter – are reunited in the wake of the cataclysm.

Some of my favorite parts of the film – and do not mistake this list as a reason to go see the movie – include, but are not limited to:

  • Emma’s ass of a new developer boyfriend, who actually starts off the film as a not-so-bad guy, but then conveniently transforms into the cad of the century once the script requires him to do so.
  • Given the divorced (OK, almost divorced) main characters, are the makers of 2012 going to sue? Hope so. That, at least, would be entertaining.
  • In the first part of the movie, Ray is portrayed as a responsible search-and-rescue guy, but then he just steals a helicopter – one that could be used to rescue hundreds of other people – to go save his wife. Good for him (and her), I guess . . .
  • Riding up the side of a cresting tsunami! This has to be one the best bad CGI stunts I have ever seen. Bravo!
  • And then, as I mentioned, there’s that odd racial casting. Instead of celebrating the fact that the movie has, in Mr. Johnson, a charismatic actor of multi-racial background, they give him two daughters who look about white as they can be. I. Don’t. Get. It.

My advice? Stay home and watch Earthquake instead. It’s not great, but it’s better than this.

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