Director: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Kylie Minogue, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Grufford
Rated: PG-13 (intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language)
In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey with his ex-wife across the state in order to rescue his daughter.
By Cole Schneider
It’s difficult to make a successful disaster film. For every Oscar-winning “Titanic” there’s “Twister”, “Independence Day”, “Armageddon” and so many other mixed bags. Some, though, have more bite. Recent efforts like “Contagion” and “Godzilla” have effectively brought the disaster film to higher heights even as they live on the fringe of the sub-genre.
A disaster movie with an absurd premise such as “San Andreas” (earthquake, California is going to die, earthquake, tidal wave, earthquake, California lives) has to be effective in two primary ways. It must sell the disaster, preferably through large-scale visuals; and it must balance a tone where it’s characters are sincere but the film is self-aware. The failure usually comes in the latter, and “San Andreas” is no exception. In a movie like this it becomes easy to dismiss a character’s one-dimensionality or their melodramatic dialogue. “Titanic” won Best Picture even with its over-the-top rich girl/poor boy romance. It did so because its visuals were superb and its tone was flawless.
There is one character in “San Andreas” who understands this. Paul Giamatti plays a scientist who is boldly sincere yet still delivering the one-liners a b-movie should have. The core family we follow, led by Dwayne Johnson (who usually shines in these vehicles) is far, far too bogged down in a post-divorce family-reconnection story. The melodrama isn’t just dumb, which would be forgivable, it’s incessant. That is not forgivable. That is boring. There is plenty to like, though. The visuals are outstanding, the score is surprisingly evocative, and the few attempts at humor hit their mark.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
By Matt Greene
The disaster genre isn’t a high-brow affair, with films opting for exciting destruction in lieu of compelling characters and dialogue. At one point during San Andreas, a character describes another character as “cute, not bright”; that is an apt description of these films, SA included. It’s predictability and dumbness are earth-shattering, so clearly it could be a better film. However, with fun 90’s-era action set-pieces bolstered by state-of-the-art effects, San Andreas just plain works in spite of itself. With corny, melodramatic emotional beats drowning in giant and impressive action scenes, this skillfully made cookie-cutter flick is easy to enjoy.
Story is not its strong suit; sloppy coincidences and “get outta there!”-type dialogue abound. What you do need to know is that it’s also full of buildings falling, big things breaking, and beautiful people screaming as they try to survive the most epic earthquake in history. Utilizing some great faux-long takes and a sure-hand with the CGI, we are given some truly exciting and unique thrills. The cast does a commendable job heightening their performances to the eye-rolling cheese in the material, managing to get us just emotionally invested enough. Johnson is a pure movie star, Daddario is pleasantly unshrill, and I’ll never tire of Giamatti.
Most impressive is its ability to remain appropriately somber as we celebrate the triumphs. The immense amount of faceless death is anchored by the movie being so concerned with helping others. Sure, it’s done with some not-so-thinly-veiled 9/11 allusions, but those negatives are mostly harmless and even noble within the extraordinary annihilation. Like a tsunami of tension, San Andreas is big, dumb fun.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars