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Director: Brad Peyton
Writers: Carlton Cuse (screenplay), Andre Fabrizio (story)
Stars:Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario
Johnson has filled his dance card with a host of aggressively silly action movies, from the Fast & Furious franchise to G.I. Joe to Hercules to a cops and fantasy films. So when this new disaster porn earthquake movie was announced, it was no surprise to see the current king of smirking-while-breaking-things action star be the top-billed name. San Andreas a ginormous playground for Johnson to run amok in and that is exactly what he does.
I watched this film for only two things: 1) How much screen time was Paul Giamatti actually going get? and 2) How much was The Rock going to punch that earthquake in the face? Okay, and 3) How often was director Brad Peyton going to train his lens on Alexandra Daddario‘s jibbly bits. Turns out, a lot. For all three questions.
The refreshing thing was seeing how much Giamatti was in this movie. He plays an earthquake expert who has developed (along with his team) a way to concretely earthquake joke) predict when an earthquake is going to strike. Coincidentally, he does so precisely at the exact moment the largest earthquake in recorded history trembles to life. And he does so while standing atop the Hoover Dam so there will be lots of things to go kapooey. Giamatti is the best part of the film as he gets to deliver all the best teaser trailer lines and warn the country of the impending doom. He’s very good at it and by the end, he’s kind of a hero.
The story is about as rote as a Hollywood story about an (insert disaster/dilemma/kidnapping) can be, which means it is about a dad with a very specialized skill who is on this very day getting his divorce papers while his attractive wife is moving in with an obnoxious guy who will prove his obnoxiousness by failing the daughter just when she needs him the most so the attractive wife can realize that her ex-husband with the very specialized skill (which will be used to save them) is really the man to be with. Johnson actually does a fair amount emoting here, which is rather nice. But of course, like Hercules himself, he mostly just beats the crap out of mother nature by going on a mission to save his family while the world cleaves open and topples everything in site. In that respect, the film is a success. The crumbling towers of cities and bridges along the coast of California are indeed a terrible sight and while this kind of imagery in movies is really no longer a thrill, (thanks, Roland Emmerich), it’s suitably impressive and somehow affecting as not just landmarks fall victim, but a good sense of humanity as well, which is typically absent in these kinds of movies.
The film fails though in many other ways, especially in the wholly manipulative and exceedingly predictable ending involving CPR and a drowned person that once again tells us that in movies, if you just try again, and this time with more emotion, you can revive anyone. It’s insultingly in any movie. Except when Ed Harris does it. Then it’s amazing. There’s also the whole mom’s-new-boyfriend-is-jerk-issue, too that is so overdone, and really, resolved so unsatisfying it makes you wonder, why bother? It adds no tension and makes no difference. There’s also a smart-aleck boy, who in 2015 uses books instead of smartphones to keeps track of his entire itinerary while traveling in California, which works out really well when all the power goes out and smartphones can’t be used. Whew. Lucky he was around.
Lastly is Carla Gugino, who plays the wife/mother/girlfriend/screamer. Gugino is a great actress who has done some good work, but here is reduced to filling in a mold with lines that mostly consist of “Oh My God!” She looks fabulous saying them of course and displays near super human abilities in her efforts to survive. Her sprint across a rooftop while things collapse behind her is B-movie gold.
Overall, the film is fun but not too smart. Exactly what I knew going in. The Rock is his usual The Rockyiness and delivers another action thriller with more brawn that brains. But that’s okay. That goes down well with a bucket popcorn. Still, I can’t help but wonder what a film like this would be like with Daniel Day-Lewis in the Johnson role, Meryl Streep in the Gugino role, Maggie Gyllenaal as the their daughter and with Paul Thomas Anderson directing. But then again, maybe I don’t. Perhaps the prospect of a natural disaster of such epic proportions should only be idealized only with larger than life figures. And San Andreas is all that and then some.