Synopsis: In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey across the state in order to rescue his estranged daughter.
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Kylie Minogue, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson
Director: Brad Peyton
Running Length: 114 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Though we’ve gotten used to our summer blockbusters having a little bit of a brain over the past several years, there’s something so irresistible about a big dumb hunk of disaster cheese. And San Andreas, dear readers, is a huge block of grade A cheddar that winds up being the filling meal the summer of 2015 was waiting for. Yeah yeah, arriving two weeks after the epic size and gonzo glory of Mad Max: Fury Road you may not be as willing to forgive the corny one-liners or the overall feeling you’ve been transported to a Sylvester Stallone knock-off from the mid ‘90s but if you’re in the right frame of mind this one definitely passes the popcorn movie test.
That’s not to say San Andreas is the kind of film where you stow your brain cells in the overhead compartment, though. True, the science presented may not be totally reliable…but I don’t doubt that it’s so far away from the truth, another reason why I’m content to be living a landlocked Midwestern life thank you very much. I’m already worried enough about finding a route around the dastardly road construction that plagues us every summer, adding the threat of shifting tectonic plates would up my anxiety to the stratosphere.
But I digress…let’s get back to the film at hand.
When we first see Dwayne Johnson (Furious Seven, Hercules) as a Los Angeles Fire and Rescue captain he’s piloting a helicopter rescue mission to save a motorist that took an unlucky spin off a California cliffside. Reminiscent of the nail-biting opening scenes of Cliffhanger and others of its kind, it nicely sets the mood for the disaster mayhem that’s to come.
As it typical with most disaster movies, the opening forty minutes or so are all about character introduction and for once it doesn’t seem like we’re being presented with a stock company of victims destined to end up crushed by a chunk of cement from a crumbling freeway overpass. You can be sure that each role has been carefully designed to play their part in the overall gameplay and Carlton Cuse’s script only calls people out of the bullpen when he needs a way out of a sticky situation, but the point of the movie isn’t to figure out who will perish but rather get behind their efforts to survive.
In addition to a committed performance from Johnson (for once, the actor doesn’t seem to be forcing the material to work in his favor which allows him to feel more natural) there’s Carla Gugino (Man of Steel) as his estranged wife, and Alexandria Daddario (Texas Chainsaw 3D) playing his treasured daughter. All three make a believable family unit, with Gugino’s Jane Fonda-esque looks seemingly passed down to Daddario. Director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) allows for some precious time between the bombastic rumblings to let us see the family dynamic at hand…it’s not great material but it adds some extra emotional weight when Johnson has to set about saving the two most important ladies in his life.
Rounding out the cast is the less annoying than usual Paul Giamatti (Saving Mr. Banks) as a breathless scientist that figures out the earthquake pattern too late to do anything about it. Giamatti’s barely held back hysteria gives the film some of its more cringe worthy moments, eclipsing Johnson’s awkward line readings. There’s also good work by Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson (Dracula Untold) as brothers that find their way into the company of Daddario and team up to reach safety.
The effects are top notch, only feeling not quite up to snuff when humans are in the frame as well. The devastating blows the multiple earthquakes and aftershocks deal the coast of Southern California are rendered nicely and with ear-splitting sound. What I liked about the pace of the film is that the earthquakes strike at random times, often without any notice which keeps the cast and audience on the edge of their seats.
There’s follow through in the film and while the ending feels a little too showy for its own good, the ride to get there was so unexpectedly entertaining that I was able to forgive it easily. As far as disaster pics go, San Andreas is a good addition to films like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure…just don’t go in thinking you’re seeing a “smart” film because you’ll miss the whole point of having fun.