Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandria Daddario, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Will Yun Lee and Paul Giamatti
Plot: The biggest quake to ever hit America rocks California and a family, struggling over a recent divorce, are trapped in the middle of it.
San Andreas has been having a tough time of it in terms of critical reception. It has been branded as light on characters and plot. For a movie that seems to boast a lot of scientific knowledge, it seems to be stuck on stupid mode at certain times as well. Admittedly, when you place The Rock as your lead in a movie about a killer earthquake, you don’t come in expecting much.
But that is exactly what these critics are missing. What were they expecting? San Andreas is very honest about what kind of film it is going to be. An earthquakes hits San Francisco and all-American Dwayne Johnson rushes in to save the day. Yes, at times, it is impossible to escape how stupid it is. The movie breezes over the fact that the plot hinges on Dwayne Johnson abandoning his job as a rescue pilot, to save his own ex-wife and daughter. Apparently we are just going to ignore the countless lives he failed to save for his own selfish reasons. But when we let go of the story, which is hardly one of the foundations this movie plans to rest on, the action satisfies rather nicely. Personally, I think that there is a little bit too much CGI in this, for my liking, but as far as disaster movies go (one of my least favourite genres by the way), this works well enough. Peyton makes good use of the technology at hand in modern cinema and shows us some gorgeous shots of an entire city vibrating from above as the major earthquake rocks it to its knees. Other moments flash with ingenuity. There is a tracking shot of Carla Gugino rushing through a collapsing building. I am used to disaster movies trying to focus on the entire devastation, but San Andreas zooms in one specific family’s arc through the quake. As she races up stairs splintering around her, I felt more in tune with the events happening than I was in Day After Tomorrow, for example. This zooming in on the events does hurt the whole ‘we will rebuild’ angle the movie goes for at the end – which would have been nice to see, given the whole Nepal incident – especially with the cheesy American flag failing over the ruins of the city in the final few frames, but I think it helped the middle of the movie keep its pace. The final scene as Dwayne Johnson races to save his daughter in a building filling up with water is a tense race against time and hits all of the right thrills I wanted to get from this movie.
And yes, the characters are thin, but the actors keep it charismatic enough. The pace is kept too fast to really slow down and develop their back stories anyway. Yes, seeing as Peyton tries to hammer home the fact that this disaster is really a microcosm for the central characters’ crumbling family unit, there is a sense that the whole ‘death of the other daughter’ history could have been added to more, making it feel more like an obligatory excuse for the hero to have both a dark past and a sensitive side. But, that isn’t to say that the cast suffer from their paper thin characters. Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino have a whole career made out of movies that gave them little to work with. Gugino shines as the grieving mother showing that a bad performance isn’t necessarily the fault of a poor writer – in taking the role seriously, she lifts her stock figure above the usual forgettable trend. Daddario finds it harder to break out of the helpless female role, despite constantly saving the day. It is hard to not notice how low her top is when she is swimming through a flooded skyscraper or that her character is introduced in her swimwear, for little to no reason. Paul Giamatti doesn’t seem to realise he is trapped with the exposition role and works with every line he is given, so his sidelined character actually feels real and worth mentioned. It says something when you don’t mind cutting away from the action to listen to Paul Giamatti do some acting. As for the hero, Dwayne Johnson, he is always a reliable source of good-natured action hero. He can actually act which lifts him above a lot of the other contenders for the role. It means that we get some good acting, but we also get to have the cheesy action hero stuff as well, without it getting in the way. “Haven’t got you to second base in a while,” he tells his ex-wife, as he parachutes her down to a football field. Also, look out for a genius bit where the Rock takes on a Tsunami head-on. Yes, it is stupid, but fun. That suits me for this Friday night.
Final Verdict: Yes, it is just as silly as the critics have been telling you, but since when has that been necessarily a bad thing?