Nutshell: The feel-good disaster movie of the summer! Low on blood and onscreen human decimation, this is a disaster flick that you can take your grandmother (or grandkids) to. Does that make it dull? Nup; the CGI is the best I’ve ever seen in the genre. Fun popcorn fare that dispenses with plausibility and delivers a sweet (but strangely truncated) happy ending. Welcome, summer! Grade: B
Didn’t get enough crumbling famous places when you saw 2012? Felt that Independence Day was a little too believable, or perhaps that Into The Storm focused too much on character development? Then have I got a film for you; Dwayne “Can People Stop Calling Me ‘The Rock’ Already?” Johnson stars as Ray, an LA search-and-rescue chopper pilot who finds himself in the air when the big Cali earthquake everyone jokes about finally hits. So naturally, he rescues his soon-to-be-ex wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and hightails it to San Fran to rescue their college-age daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Who, bee-tee-dubs, has pal’d up with a
love interest guy named Ben, who is at Daniel’s building in the hopes of landing a job, and Ben’s adorable younger brother Ollie. (Points for casting Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries cast member Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Ben. Man that’s a great show.)
Meanwhile, CalTech earthquake expert Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) tries to get the word out that the quake that just devastated LA is just the beginning. Will all these characters live to see another day? Of course! This is a happy jazz-hands disaster film, there’s no need to worry.
Well, there is a death or two. A movie that harkens back to the “good guys live/bad guys die” films has to have a baddie. Here it’s poor Ioan Gruffudd, who plays Daniel, Emma’s new beau. Because in Hollywood as soon as the final divorce papers hit, a woman immediately moves in with a rich, handsome dude. Who also ends up being kind of a douche, which feels out of place considering he’s supposed to be a guy that cares about Emma and Blake…but I guess I missed his character arc in the 7 minutes of total screentime he gets. There’s also the old standby “Person Who Was In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time That Will Propel A Lead Character Into Being Heroic Or Something”. This time it’s Lawrence’s Grad Student/fellow professor/who knows because we’re never told Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee). Pity, as I’ve enjoyed Lee in Hawaii Five-O and True Blood. Oh well. Needs must. And no, I haven’t spoiled these characters for you, as you’ll see their ends coming from a mile away. Maybe from 20 miles away. Seriously, the subplots here are obvious as hell.
So yes, the screenplay is as much of a wreck as the leftovers of San Fransisco at the end of the film. But the earnestness of the actors – and the incredible CGI devastation all around them – almost washed away the questions I had about why characters that met five seconds earlier suddenly Care So Very Much about each other, how a marriage that took years to dissolve suddenly patches up in two minutes, and what’ll happen when these characters are back home watching Hulu again. Almost.
All wobbly bits aside, San Andreas is a visually breathtaking film. What it lacks in character development or coherency it more than makes up for in sheer spectacle. From the CGI (which looks as though every single FX company in the world took part) to the editing (from sound to film, it’s all on fleek) to the incredibly detailed set decoration/art direction, San Andreas is as believable as a disaster film can be when it comes to the aftermath of sheer destruction. Whipsmart direction by Brad Peyton makes scenes crackle, thanks to jump-cuts, zooms and a judicious use of 3D. If you’re going to head out to a disaster movie, you’re gonna want to see the sky tumblin’ down. Peyton gives it to you in spades. And then throws in more. Cue the tsunami!
If you’re into disaster flicks and don’t care about more than watching faux Mother Nature run amok, this film won’t disappoint. If you’d like some believable characters and situations? You’re outta luck. But damn if you won’t be entertained either way. In the end, some may remember San Andreas as the film where Dwayne Johnson plays a DILF. Others may remember it as yet another film that takes a tectonic shift-sized dump on California. But for me, it’s the film where Paul Giamatti says “sweet, bro“. I’ll cherish that.