Film Review – San Andreas

by Brian Surber

The Rock vs. Rocks! That brilliant tagline I created for San Andreas, that Warner Bros. inexplicably did not use, is pretty much the selling point of this film. Sure there is a plot (but not really), but what people are coming to see is Dwayne Johnson fly (and drive and boat and parachute and run) around California while seemingly the entire population is killed by earthquakes and such. And I’m here to tell you that for better or worse (worse) that is what you are getting. San Andreas is a huge epic film that will satisfy your eyes and nothing else.

Johnson plays an L.A. Fire Department helicopter-rescue pilot who is divorced, has a haunting past, a college-bound daughter, a great body, and is pretty much great. He has a rival for his wife’s affection (which is odd because he doesn’t really seem to want her back until he finds out they’re moving in together) and a series of destruct-o earthquakes to deal with. Johnson is on his way to helping the victims an earlier quake when he finds out his ex and daughter are in danger and in different parts of Cali. So he turns around and heads out to find them (spoiler: he gets his ex almost immediately).

That’s the plot. But who really came for the plot? The destruction on-screen is stunning. I mean, California is just destroyed. For anyone who likes disaster films and couldn’t sit through 2012 (which I’m pretty sure was 365 days long), than this will do just the trick. The scenes of destruction – the effects on the screen and remarkable disregard for human life – are what summer blockbusters are made of. The large tsunami wave barreling toward the Golden Gate Bridge is by far the best sequence and it has a late twist that got me very excited. This was the kind of excited I felt by The Day After Tomorrow when I was 13 and Armageddon when I was 7.  And that is exactly what San Andreas is going for.

Unfortunately I’m older than 13 and 7 now, and so while watching San Andreas I need more than those brief moments of wide-eyed excitement. Just a little bit more. Nothing too crazy or too in-depth, just something resembling an effort made towards characters or plot. And that is something this film is sorely lacking. Let’s take away the fact that Johnson seems only concerned with his family while millions of people die around him and his job is to rescue people, we can chalk that up to adrenaline taking over and the fact that they had a tragedy in their family that they don’t want to see happen again. Let’s take away the fact that the two British boys that Johnson’s daughter (a very capable Alexandra Daddario) hangs with are essentially cardboard with accents. Let’s take away the fact the ending shot and dialogue is almost done with cut and paste creativity. San Andreas needs something more than visual effects and The Rock’s chemistry (which is fucking electric), and unfortunately it doesn’t have anything. So much effort went into the stunts, effects, action, and destruction, that it’s a shame it seems almost none went into the characters or story.

Ioan Gruffudd’s Daniel Riddick, Carla Gugino’s new boyfriend, is by far the worst character of the year. Just like in so many other disaster movies, the main character is separated from their spouse but they don’t want to be. This makes a symbolic parallel whereas the main character has to get back together with their separated spouse, physically and emotionally. Get it? So when we met Daniel we are programmed to hate him because he is not our main character, which makes sense cause Ioan Gruffodd is absolutely not Dwayne Johnson. But there is nothing wrong with Daniel. He is polite and nice. He offers to take his girlfriend’s daughter to college to get to know her better. Plus he’s a wealthy, handsome architect or whatever. But we must hate him, so the movie goes terribly and irrevocably out-of-the-way to make us hate him. Through a series of ridiculous circumstances we are meant to turn on him. The issue is that the circumstances are so out-of-place and forced that the scenes almost come across as a parody. Once separated the film shoves his actions down our throat. Daniel’s last two scenes are about 30 seconds and add ZERO to the film or narrative. It’s really quite awful.

Sorry about that rant, folks. But it’s very upsetting. I went into this film with the intentions of turning my brain off and watching Johnson travel around Calirfornia amidst unimaginable destruction. And while I did enjoy those scenes the plague of cheap writing kept hampering my enjoyment in the long run.  San Andreas is epic in scope and execution. It contains exciting scenes and gleeful destruction. Its characters are paper-thin and the conflicts they encounter (every single one) contains no suspense. Take it or leave it the film is what it is. San Andreas is made for the big screen, for sure, but doesn’t justify the price of admission. Dwayne Johnson is great but he’s been great in better things (watch Hercules, seriously), the destruction is top-notch, and the dialogue is dreadful. San Andreas is everything you’d expect, for better or worse. Paul Giamatti is fantastic in it, though.

Rating –    1/2

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