It wouldn’t be the summer movie season without at least one big disaster flick, and here it is. Dwayne Johnson stars in San Andreas, about what happens when the entire titular fault line (including the parts of it we didn’t know existed) goes off at once, taking most of California with it.
A war vet and legendary rescue pilot, Ray Gaines (Johnson) can seemingly rescue anyone from any situation. That skill is put to the test when the people he truly cares about end up directly in harms way. After the harrowing rescue of his estranged wife (Carla Gugino), the two of them must make the epic journey by land, air, and sea, to find and rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in San Francisco. Can they outrun massive earthquakes, navigate a tsunami, and dodge toppling skyscrapers to find their precious needle in a haystack? Are you kidding? Of course they can!
Paul Giamatti stars on the sidelines as Lawrence, a Caltech professor who just happens to have cracked the secret to predicting earthquakes on the very day such knowledge comes in very handy. Archie Panjabi appears as the television reporter who not only introduces us to Ray’s heroics, but Lawrence’s genius only a day or two later. Talk about coincidences.
There tend to be two types of disaster films – those that ask you to take them seriously, and those that don’t. San Andreas falls squarely on the fence, like an intoxicated boarder trying to grind a rail. The results are almost as painful. Half the time we are given harrowing near-deaths (how many times can someone leap or swerve to safety at just the exact last second?) and intense family drama. The other half of the time, we’re treated to groan inducing comedy relief, like sexual baseball puns when parachuting onto the exact right spot in AT&T Park. The Rock works best when he is either hamming it up to the extreme, or just destroying things with either his built in guns, or the actual firearms. San Andreas tries to give us both sides of him, slingshotting the tone of the film back and forth at the same time. He’s impossible not to enjoy, but everything around him crumbles faster than the CGI scenery.
For the most part, the computer generated special effects are fairly spectacular. While I can’t speak to the physical realism of the earthquakes envisioned here, they are a sight to behold. Land ripples like water and skyscrapers topple like an invisible Man of Steel is whizzing at supersonic speeds through them. Water is notoriously hard to render realistically, however, and as soon as the waves hit, everything starts to feel a little like a video game cut scene, draining a fair amount of the tension and faux realism from the screen. The 3D effects, also, are rarely used to any satisfactory degree.
With nearly non-stop disaster, there is no real climax to the film, and the ground constantly shaking grows old pretty quick. The story is so riddled with over dramatic predicable cliches, it’s like someone shot it with a cliche machine gun. The entire thing, in fact, can easily be interpreted as one big symbolic metaphor for the Gaines’ lives. And, of course, nothing repairs a broken family better or more quickly than a natural disaster. The moment the rich new boyfriend’s spectacular building becomes not a refuge, but a deathtrap Ray needs to rescue Blake from, all becomes clear. The more you look for them, the more “clever” nods to the family’s life you’ll see in the quake’s effects.
A mishmash of misguided symbolism, uneven tone, and every natural disaster movie to grace the silver screens of the past twenty years, San Andreas is bound to hit the bulls-eye occasionally, but only because the entire target has been obliterated by buckshot.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Two out of five hats
San Andreas shakes into theaters, in 2D and 3D, nationwide May 29