San Andreas

Directed by:  Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, and Paul Giamatti

After last week’s disappointing Memorial Day box office, this weekend movie-goers are being treated to a summer movie staple: the disaster flick.  Audiences love to see tornadoes, volcanoes, and uncontrollable natural disasters wreaking havoc.  We are entertained by buildings falling apart, iconic landmarks being leveled and the ultimate triumph of those who survive.  There has to be some psychological study on why this works as entertainment when there are so many real life disasters in the news (i.e. the 8.5 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan this weekend).  In any event, San Andreas is the latest disaster movie to hit theaters.  While the Rock’s new venture brings stunning special effects, it brings little else.

Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a rescue helicopter pilot in Los Angeles, California.  Although Ray has saved many lives, his personal life is falling apart.  His divorce from his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is being finalized.  Much to his dismay, Emma is moving in with her rich new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).  The only bright spot in Ray’s personal life is his close relationship with his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario).  Ray is planning to drive Blake back to college when an earthquake hits Nevada and levels the Hoover Dam. He is called in to help with the search and rescue efforts in the devastated area.

Blake ends up flying back to San Francisco with her mother’s boyfriend Daniel.  Unfortunately, the earthquake in Nevada triggers a reaction along the San Andreas Fault and a series of earthquakes ensue devastating California.  Buildings crumble, the Hollywood sign is erased and lives are lost.  Blake is stranded in San Francisco, the heart of the disaster.  Ray is no longer working just to rescue the masses.  He must do everything in his power to save his wife and daughter. 

San Andreas dazzles audiences with special effects that are worthy of a Roland Emmerich film.  Director Brad Peyton takes his characters from one horrible extreme to the next.  From the very start of the film, he puts the audience on a rollercoaster ride, moving from one horrific image to the next.  Moviegoers will undoubtedly marvel over the impressive onscreen destruction and chaos.  Even if the science of the film is not completely accurate, it is easy to lose your breath as you take in cinematography. This may be the most visually interesting disaster movie since The Day After Tomorrow.

The cast is solid, and primarily comprised of a number of television actors from shows such as True Detective, The Good Wife, Arrow and Forever.  In the lead role, Johnson is convincing as a rescue pilot trying to save his family.  He is the epitome of masculinity and swagger. If I am ever hanging off of the side of the cliff, I would like someone that looks like the Rock “tipping the hat” and saving me.  However, Johnson’s biggest strength is not his dramatic acting chops.  Johnson’s best roles have been when his effortless charisma and brute strength are fully utilized.  San Andreas is a better fit for Johnson as a leading man than Snitch, but there is still something missing.
Ultimately, it is likely the script that stifles Johnson and the cast more than anything else.  The film’s dialogue is often predictably painful.  While one should not go into a disaster film expecting Shakespeare, there should be some effort in giving the tale some layer of complexity.  The simplicity did not just end with the script. The overall themes in the film are simple.  The explanation for the largest earthquake in human history is simply that big events happen every 150 years.  However, as Americans, when the worst happens, we simply rebuild.  The film does not touch on climate change or any man-made issues.  Frankly, it is a disaster movie that conservatives can get behind.

While I think the masses will find San Andreas to be satisfying summer movie popcorn fare, I need a little more substance.  San Andreas earns a 0.09% rating.  Have a French martini with this one.