Directed by Brad Peyton
Written by Carlton Cuse
“Some men,” as Alfred tells us in The Dark Knight, “just want to watch the world burn.” I suppose he is right in many ways, though perhaps not to the extreme that the Joker wanted to watch the world burn in that film. But in terms of entertainment, there certainly appears to be an audience for the disaster film, which depicts great forces of nature, or acts of war, or the invasion of aliens, etc., wiping out parts or all of the world in one fell swoop. I suppose the draw is the hero complex inside all of us, wondering how we might respond in such a situation, hoping that, if put into the same situation as the hunky hero, we might save everyone on the planet too. At the same time, there is something somewhat sadistic about the genre, reveling in seeing thousands, millions die in a tsunami or fire or earthquake. The best disaster movies, however, play on the most basic human elements of love and survival.
In San Andreas, these elements are certainly present, as Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a search and rescue pilot with over 600 confirmed rescues to his name, must rush to save not only his ex-wife (Carla Gugino) in Los Angeles, but also his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in San Francisco after a massive earthquake hits California. Hitting in waves, the earthquake is predicted, though not with enough response time to evacuate these major cities, by Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a seismology professor at Cal Tech who, along with his partner, discover a relation to quakes and magnetism while studying tremors at the Hoover Dam. With buildings crumbling around them, fires erupting, massive mobs of panic swarming at them, our heroes must face the worst of circumstances to make it out alive and in one piece.
Belonging with what Roger Ebert called the “Bruised Forearm Movies”, San Andreas has about as many twists and turns of fate as All My Children in its prime. After each obstacle is avoided, another more impossible one presents itself. If you plan on going with a friend to this movie, make sure you protect your forearms from their tense death grip. The scenario, put forth by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore, allows for plenty of big CGI effects of mass destruction. From start to finish something is breaking, crumbling, getting set on fire, or flooding. Given the mass of destruction, it’s a perfect film for those who wish to watch the world burn, or just see shit blow up for a couple of hours.
For as effective as the film is with action and effects, it is equally ineffective in its plotting, favoring the cheesy and tired divorced couple, rekindled romance over, well, anything more interesting. And I do mean cheesy. The whole thing is telegraphed from the start, though that hardly seems to be a problem for director Brad Peyton, who seems much more preoccupied with showing us the utter destruction of two major cities to really worry about the characters. Take Lawrence, for instance, whose story is not tied to that of Ray, Emma or Blake. He only serves as a way to let the audience know just how bad the quakes are, and when they might be coming next.
What San Andreas does manage to be is a vehicle for The Rock to play hero, which never seems to be a bad thing. But in terms of becoming the next Arnold, The Rock has a long way to go, and much of it starts with picking better material, as San Andreas suffers under the weight of its own destruction. Perhaps the most offputting element to the film was true lack of weight associated with this terrible disaster. With millions dying around them, there are too many smiles and calm nerves in our group of heroes to really be taken seriously. Alexandra Daddario’s Blake may be the only one who feels like she’s really in the middle of a disaster the whole time. Also, to its benefit, the film does turn Blake into a hero, and casts her love interest as a younger man (if only in real age and not perceived screen age). Cuse and Peyton are dealing with parts that could come together to make a good disaster movie, but they never do quite come together, crumbling, perhaps, to the editing room floor, alongside Los Angeles and San Francisco.
**1/2 – Average