‘San Andreas’ Loads Its Story with Too Many Faults

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CHICAGO – The best way, perhaps the only way, to enjoy the disaster movie “San Andreas” is to check your brain at the door, or better yet leave it at home for safekeeping. Bringing new meaning to the term mindless entertainment, “San Andreas” dares its audience to turn off their minds, and enjoy the ride.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a helicopter pilot and military vet conducting search and rescues in Los Angeles. He’s also a soon to be divorced dad suffering with a sense of loss over a deceased daughter he couldn’t save. Meanwhile, estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has moved in with an insanely rich new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), just as their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is heading off to school. And just as his world seems to be crumbling around him, cue the earthquake that sends the world (at least L.A. and San Francisco) crumbling around him.

Dwayne Johnson
Dwayne Johnson in ‘San Andreas’
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

The story, such as it is, follows The Rock as he sacrifices everything to save first his estranged wife in L.A., and then his daughter in San Francisco. The Rock is a credible and a likable hero, although if you stop to think for one second, his actions are completely and totally selfish. He takes his search and rescue helicopter – which should be sorely needed – and essentially pulls it out of duty for his personal ends, as he recklessly rescues his wife, and then goes to San Francisco for his daughter. He commandeers almost as many forms of transportation as John Candy and Steve Martin in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” – using a chopper, a truck, a plane, skydiving and eventually a speed boat to make the trip to the city by the bay. Along the way these people pass scene after scene of devastation and human suffering while only occasionally stopping to offer assistance.

Director Brad Peyton hews closely to the Hollywood disaster movie playbook. This is a movie that values blowing stuff up real good and digital destruction over all else. It’s easy to sacrifice story, character development, and an actual narrative if the acts of destruction are entertaining enough to your basest instincts, and for a while they are.  But this movie has so many acts of utter stupidity, and impossible to believe set-pieces, that it makes Roland Emmerich’s “2012” look like a documentary by comparison.  

The film’s best scene comes early on with bushy-bearded seismologist (Paul Giamatti) predicting tremors at the Hoover Dam just as an earthquake hits. That sends extras fleeing for their lives as one of the wonders of modern engineering crumbles into digital rubble. Giamatti is mostly there to provide exposition so even the meanest intelligence can figure out what’s coming, but he’s also the best part with ominous movie trailer-worthy one-liners of warning, such as “It’s not a matter of if the big one will hit, it’s a matter of when.”  

San Andreas
The Golden Gate Bridge Braces for the Tsunami in ‘San Andreas’
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Once it actually gets going, the film piles on the big destructive set pieces – so many in fact that when The Rock crash lands a helicopter into a strip mall of looters, it counts as one of the film’s lesser stunts. The film is fond of large digitally-composited landscapes showing swatches of dry land rippling up and down as though they were waves on the ocean. But about the time when the film casually tosses in a tsunami to submerge San Francisco, the story and the movie as a whole gets a bit soggy.  

The action remains as cartoonish as its hero’s cartoonishly oversized proportions. So there’s no real dread or tension involved in the fates of these characters, or any of the hundreds of extras who perish at the whims of mother nature. It’s a movie that values its virtues as a thrill ride above all else, but it only gets the job about half done.  

“San Andreas” opened everywhere on May 29th. Featuring Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Carla Gugino, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Ioan Gruffudd, Kylie Minogue, Archie Panjabi and Will Yun Lee. Written by Carlton Cuse, Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore. Directed by Brad Peyton. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com contributor Spike Walters

By SPIKE WALTERS
Contributor
HollywoodChicago.com
spike@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2015 Spike Walters, HollywoodChicago.com

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