San Andreas

Posted: May 31, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by Brad Peyton. Starring Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino.

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Ray Gaines (Johnson) is a search and rescue pilot working in California. He’s on the verge of getting a divorce from Emma (Gugino) who’s moving in with her new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). The Gaines’ marriage broke up in the aftermath of the death of their youngest daughter. Their older daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is about to go to college, but a last camping trip with her dad is cancelled when an earthquake ruptures the Hoover dam and Ray is called in to help.

Present at the dam is seismologist Lawrence Hayes (a woefully underused Paul Giamatti) who realises that the Hoover quake is just the precursor to an even bigger earthquake that will shatter the San Andreas Fault.

When the big quake hits Emma is in LA having lunch with Daniel’s sister (only Kylie flipping Minogue!) whilst Blake is in San Francisco with Daniel. With his wife and daughter in danger, Ray takes a helicopter and heads to LA for to save Emma, and then the two of them head for San Francisco to try and rescue Blake, but can the Gaines’ family be reunited in the face of the awesome power of mother nature?

There’s a bit in Die Hard when the redoubtable Sgt Al Powell advises John McClane that the FBI have “…got the terrorist playbook and they’re running it step by step.” San Andreas is a bit like that, only with the disaster movie playbook obviously. Natural disaster; check, estranged family in peril; check, the expert who’s the only one who knows what’s coming; check, cowardly bloke who’ll get his comeuppance; check, youngsters in love; check…I thought we’d escaped the family pet survives, but a flipping dog shows up at the end! In fact the only thing San Andreas doesn’t do is have the courage of his disastrous convictions, Pompeii may have been equally ropey, but at least you could give it props for seeing things through.

This isn’t to say that San Andreas is terrible. It’s just very incredibly average. The core cast is good, where the film falls down is in a wider cast of characters we can root for/rail against/cheer when they survive/mourn when they die. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on how a small group of people respond to a disaster, but if you don’t widen things out then all the people dying in the background might as well be computer generated characters (and probably are) for all it matters. For all the stick it gets there’s a reason Titanic is so good, it might be a touch oversentimental in places, its emotions painted in broad swathes, but by focusing, at times, on melodrama, Cameron makes you care about the secondary characters, so when they die/are saved, you feel it. San Andreas has none of this, so whilst we might care about Ray and his family, nobody else really matters.

The artist formally (and occasionally still) known as The Rock is always eminently watchable, and Gugino provides ample support as his estranged wife Emma, selling every scene she’s in with gusto. We do get to see more of Gugino and Daddario’s cleavages than is strictly speaking necessary, but as things go they’re decent enough female characters who have a lot of agency, and if in the end they’re there for Johnson to save, Daddario at least gets to save the two English brothers she’s meets up with (Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson in decent if clichéd roles) on several occasions.

Gruffudd deserves more to get his teeth into, but this isn’t a film that deals in shades of grey, that considers that when faced by Armageddon people will react in all sorts of ways they wouldn’t have imagined beforehand. When the earthquake strikes in this film people are either heroes or cowards—there’s no in-between.

The effects are decent enough, but it’s hard to feel for the thousands of people being crushed by falling buildings, and each successive set piece feels increasingly like a level in a computer game.

It’s not a bad film, but nor is it a good film, it plays it too safe and too old-school, and as a result this earthquake centred film causes barely a tremor.

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