Cinema Dispatch: San Andreas

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San Andreas and all the images you see below are owned by Warner Bros.

Directed by Brad Peyton

The movie is primarily about Ray (Dwayne Johnson) who is a Fire Rescue helicopter pilot who’s about to have one mother fucker of a day when the entire San Andreas fault decides to drop the entire California coast into the Pacific Ocean.  Throughout this catastrophic event, Ray does everything in his power to rescue his family from the chaos surrounding them, as well as others who are trying to survive or do their part in preventing further lives from being lost.   Along with Ray’s badass adventures with his soon to be ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino), we follow his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who’s trying to survive with a couple of Brits she found along the way, and we also get to see Professor Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) who’s trying to get the word out that earthquakes are happening while the earthquakes are happening.  As far as the science goes, there isn’t really a reason WHY this is happening, other than what this poster has to say on it.

And we did SUCH a good job preparing for it!

And we did SUCH a good job preparing for it!

The movie is essentially a worst case scenario of the idea that a Big One (as in an earthquake of magnitude eight or higher) will one day hit Southern California right along the San Andreas Fault.  I guess it’s more realistic than whatever the hell 2012 was going for, but then Independence Day was more realistic than that.  Speaking of which, what separates San Andreas from your typical Roland Emmerich disaster porno?  I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this for a while now, but I THINK I’ve figured it out.  San Andreas is somehow both JUST as goofy as a Roland Emmerich epic, and significantly restrained at the same time.  This movie is by no means subtle or nuanced (trust me.  We’ll get to THAT later), but it definitely isn’t trying to be the out and out cartoon that Roland Emmerich has a habit of making.  The cast of thousands is reduced to about six primary characters and a smattering of bit players, and there’s a stronger focus on the individual characters experiencing this event rather than seeing the events unfold as a distant observer.  The film does definitely give us those enormous sweeping shots of building collapsing and the untold masses running as fast as possible from falling debris, but it’s also trying SO hard to be impactful and weighty and have something to say that’s super inspirational.  It doesn’t really WORK though because all those moments where the movie tries to impart some sort of meaning to the events unfolding and the lives impacted just come off as unintentionally cheesy.   Still, I give this movie credit for when it decides to get you right into the destruction from the point of view of its main characters and it’s these moments that showcase the fantastic cinematography that manages to show up throughout the film.  There’s an amazing scene with Emma as she tries to desperately get to the roof of a building, barely manages it, and then falls about four stories down.  It’s effective because the camera is never off of her which means we can’t get away from the chaos that’s surrounding her.  Normally in this kind of disaster movie it’s easy to pull yourself away from it and just enjoy the spectacle rather than focus on the horror that the people below must be going through.  When it decides to slow down in THAT sense, it works and gets across the true danger that everyone is in as these buildings tumble down.

Free tip for anyone else who wants to make an earthquake movie.  Shoot from the ground up.  Falling debris is scary as hell.

Free tip for anyone else who wants to make an earthquake movie.  Shoot from the ground up.  Falling debris is scary as hell.

Even the big sweeping shots, which aren’t nearly as effective, do their job well and keep this movie going through it’s nearly two hour run time.  If this movie just left it as a nonstop thrill ride as people try to survive this disaster, I would have thought this movie was fairly enjoyable, what with the great special effects and the sheer charisma of Dwayne Johnson as he tries to get his family through this.  The movie DOESN’T just leave it there though, and this is where we get into the biggest flaw of this movie.  The story about Dwayne Johnson and his family getting back together is calculated to a disturbing degree and felt like I was watching some eerie sort of propaganda.  On the one hand, Dwayne Johnson is a born star.  Throughout this movie, I couldn’t help but thing that he truly is the next Schwarzenegger.  Sure, he may never reach the level that he was at in his prime (it’s doubtful anyone ever could), but he is a tremendous presence on screen that’s infinitely watchable in the way that Schwarzenegger was able to pull off so easily.

“The San Andreas fault ain’t got SHIT on ME!!!”

“The San Andreas fault ain’t got SHIT on ME!!!”

On the other hand though, the Mixed Race Messiah’s journey through this has so much baggage weighing on top of it that just pulls this movie down and makes it neigh unwatchable at moments.  As stated earlier, his wife is about to be his ex-wife (he gets the divorce papers the day before the earthquake hits) and the movie does EVERYTHING in its power to punish this woman for daring to divorce the guy.  Her rich boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd) turns out to be a total scumbag, the only person who can save her and her daughter is Ray, and the daughter is practically guilt tripping her into getting back with the dude so that they can be one big happy family again.  For the first half of the movie, we get no sense of the life that she had to live with him or any sort of flaws in his character that would have us understand why she might have left him.  By the time the movie DOES address this, she’s already back into his arms and the reason their movie gives is fucking spectacular.  Their marriage dissolved because of his STOCISM.

“You wanna talk about it?”     “Nah.  There might be an action scene up ahead.”

“You wanna talk about it?”     “Nah.  There might be an action scene up ahead.”

I won’t spoil what exactly happened, but trust me; the movie makes no bones about Dwayne’s badass demeanor being anything but the epitome of manly wholesomeness.  This is one of those things where Dwayne Johnson’s innate likability becomes a detriment to the movie because it places the breakup of their marriage entirely on Emma’s shoulders which gives the implication that her womanly emotions are the reason this perfect family was torn apart.  It becomes ridiculous at points especially when it comes to the boyfriend who’s a douchebag to such an insane level.  He’s cowardly, condemns others to death, and is (of all things) an ARCHITECHT.  Not only is Emma’s boyfriend (who she was planning to move in with) a total loser, but he has the one job where we get to see the planet fuck up an entire lifetime of work to punish him.  He also gets a completely unceremonious ending which you don’t see coming only because he disappears for half the movie.  I would’ve expected the film to revel in the chance to have Dwayne Johnson TRY to save him but die of his own selfishness or whatever.  Nope, just a quick splat.

Come on!  This dude was Mr. Fantastic in two of the worst Super Hero movies of all time!  HASN’T HE SUFFERED ENOUGH!?!?

Come on!  This dude was Mr. Fantastic in two of the worst Super Hero movies of all time!  HASN’T HE SUFFERED ENOUGH!?!?

The movie is constantly trumpeting Ray as the paragon of greatness which is a good thing, but once they start using his likability to make other characters look bad is when the movie starts to get uncomfortable for me.  Granted, we’re talking about a movie that’s about seventy percent action sequences, but the remaining thirty percent almost always finds some awkward way to use Dwayne as a cudgel for whatever the hell was bothering the writer.  It reminds me of Taken in that way where Liam Neeson is such a great character, but the story he’s in has some really obnoxious implications about non-Americans and listening to your daddy figures above all others.  The rest of the movie isn’t all that interesting, but has fewer problems with it.  Paul Giamatti is always fun to watch because no matter what kind of character he’s playing, he can’t help but sound ultra-slimy.  His story is basically that he and his research partner had recently discovered a way to predict Earthquakes and he’s trying to reach out to the media in order to warn them that more Earthquakes are on the way.  I still don’t really get how important this was.  I mean, he really doesn’t give detailed diagrams or time tables.  He’s just stating that “more will be coming” about twenty minutes before it does.  Even if the information he was imparting was important, the movie never shows people LISTENING to his advice in ways that would help out.  Come to think of it, the government is barely a presence in this.  We see a couple of cops and national guardsmen directing people, but there’s character in this that represents them and what they are doing to try and help the situation.  Granted, one of the saving graces of this movie is that it doesn’t feel the need to overstuff it with characters, but that feels like a missed opportunity that would have also helped out Paul Giamatti’s story to an extent.  Anything else?  Well the daughter and the brits are just there to fill time between Dwayne Johnson’s big scenes.  Other than that, they’re just there to get in danger occasionally and barely make it out.  There are some good scenes there, but they are vastly overshadowed by Ray’s super heroics throughout.

“Should we be doing something?”     “What, and get in the way of The Rock’s limelight!?  I DON’T THINK SO!!”

“Should we be doing something?”     “What, and get in the way of The Rock’s limelight!?  I DON’T THINK SO!!”

By the time the movie ends, I was just ended up feeling annoyed.  The moments where it works are quite spectacular, but the things that annoyed me are what ended up sticking with me the most.  Maybe those kinds of things aren’t going to bother other people like it did me, but even beyond that the movie feels lacking when Dwayne Johnson isn’t on screen and saving lives.  It’s cheesy in ways that it should be but also in ways that is shouldn’t, what with the earthquake awkwardly pushing Ray and Emma back together and knocking Daniel out of the picture entirely.  It’s disappointing that the movie put so much effort in framing the story the way it did because it drags down the entire film in ways that all the special effects in the world couldn’t save.  Even so, the action works a lot better than I would have expected and Dwayne Johnson is a joy to watch on screen.  If nothing else, it gets my hopes up that he’s finally finding his niche in cinema and that he’ll end up being in movies much better than this.  Might be worth seeing if you’ve already seen the other blockbuster tent pole films, but this definitely feels like one of those movies they’ll end up throwing on those crappy compilation DVDs once The Rock wins his Oscar.

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San Andreas (Blu-ray)

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One thought on “Cinema Dispatch: San Andreas

  1. Pingback: Cinema Dispatch: Jurassic World | The Reviewers Unite!

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