tue 04/08/2020

San Andreas | reviews, news & interviews

San Andreas

San Andreas

Dwayne Johnson rocks - kinda - in otherwise daft disaster movie

Shake, rattle and roll: the West Coast calls it quits in 'San Andreas'

Time gets called on California in San Andreas, a bone-headed disaster movie that sends huge swathes of the West Coast toppling to its doom even as one particular family not only makes it through intact but is even enriched in the process. Who'd have thought that the demise of several cities full of unnamed people would act as a perverse sort of marriage counselling for a couple in nuptial distress? The real fault here isn't the tectonic one that gives Brad Peyton's putative summer blockbuster its title but the perverse logic of a creative team clearly indifferent to mass suffering but willing to do anything to make sure co-stars Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino get their conciliatory snog. 

Still, no one goes to such films expecting exercises in common sense but, instead, to see just how much wreckage the special effects team can wow us with this time around. On that front, San Andreas is pretty impressive as one or another skyscraper, bridge, or major landmark – toodle-pip, Coit Tower! adios, Golden Gate Bridge! – buckles and topples under the weight of the much-anticipated Big One: level 9 and climbing, and so horrific, we're told, that tremors can reach all the way to the east coast.

That such carnage was previously anticipated onscreen in 1974's Earthquake (and before that, as well) and has found a rending modern-day equivalent in Nepal doesn't penetrate the self-enclosed bubble in which this celluloid genre seems to exist. Let's just say that The Rock (aka Mr Johnson, pictured above) looks as if he could lift the entire Pacific rim with his little finger, and surely that's what counts.

The film in fact would be a paltry thing indeed without its commendably imperturbable star, especially given a shifting landscape that no longer finds the modern-day equivalents of Ava Gardner, Shelley Winters, or Fred Astaire (who was Oscar-nominated for The Towering Inferno, of all things) willing to climb onboard such spectacles as they were once wont to do. (Gloria Stuart in Titanic was the last such iconic presence to go down the disaster film route.) Instead, we have a fairly random trio of supporting players in Gugino, Ioan Gruffudd, and Alexandra Daddario, each of whom Johnson looks as if he could devour whole. Our leading man's unwavering gaze becomes especially welcome, given the facial displays provided by the above-mentioned trio who come across as doe-eyed, shifty-eyed, and scary-eyed in turn. Playing a daddy's girl par excellence, the aptly named Daddario, in particular, possesses such a weirdly shining pair of baby blues that one wonders if she just might be demonically possessed (the actress, pictured below).

The plot, not that it matters, finds LA Fire Department helicopter he-man Ray (Johnson) on the outs with his wife (Gugino), who has taken up with a scurrilous real estate mogul (Gruffudd). That leaves the bodacious Blake (Daddario) torn between two male authority figures – not much competish there – and available to fall hard for a sweet-faced Brit by the name of Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt). Ben, in turn, comes with an outspoken little brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson), who functions like the wisecracking, prepubescent sidekick in a Disney musical, not that San Andreas is likely headed to the stage any time soon. 

Carlton Cuse's screenplay, meanwhile, is rife with lines like "are you hurt", "ah, man, this is not good" – that one spoken by a fretful Paul Giamatti as the seismologist whose brainiac heroics complement Johnson's brawn – and, my favourite, "it's an earthquake". That last and very helpful remark is there possibly to soothe those filmgoers who would rather ascribe such rampaging destruction to the impersonal forces of mother nature and not, say, Al Qaeda or ISIS. (Much of the imagery nonetheless has about it a 9/11-influenced aesthetic.) And at the very end, as our nuclear family against ludicrous odds stands unscarred while untold millions have clearly died around them, an unyielding Johnson speaks the quiet command, "now rebuild". To which, what can one say beyond "yessir"?

Overleaf: watch the trailer for San Andreas


 

Brad Peyton's film would be a paltry thing indeed without its commendably imperturbable star

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