Another year goes by and another disaster movie gets released amid the summer box office season. Seeing the next big budget disaster movie be released is like waiting for the seasons to change, it’ll come out no matter what. With so many coming out, it becomes to be tiring as they all look the same. San Andreas follows that formula where it needlessly takes every cliché from every other ridiculous disaster movie released in the past 10 years. While the special effects looked predictably spectacular, it doesn’t equate to a good story and engaging characters. It just leaves you as hollow as the San Andreas Fault after numerous 9.0 quakes.
Chief Raymond "Ray" Gaines (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a rescue helicopter pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department who is going through a tough time while dealing with a divorce from his ex-wife Emma Gaines (Carla Gugino) who now has a boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd) and his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) leaving for college. At the same time Caltech seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and his colleague Dr. Kim Chung (Will Yun Lee) have reached a breakthrough in earthquake predictions, but disaster strikes as a massive earthquake comes at the worst possible time and is set to be the largest in recorded history. In the ensuing mayhem, Emma and Blake are right in the midst of the quakes destruction where only Ray can save them and rebuild the family he so desperately doesn’t want to lose.
You know you’re going to be annoyed by a movie if you start groaning at the stupidity of a character within the first 2 minutes. The film starts off with a woman driving alongside a cliff who for whatever reason takes her eyes off the road to grab a water bottle in the backseat. Then she grabs her phone to look at a text while driving alongside a curve on a cliff. Cars pass her by as she is doing these moronic actions and you already want her dead even though you don’t know a thing about her. Well except that she is a terrible driver who doesn’t care for safety of her or others around her. It’s a bad way to start any film but a good way to introduce the heroics of The Rock when an earthquake and not her stupidity causes her car to crash over a cliff, but with of course minimal damage to her.
If San Andreas sounds rather pedestrian, well that’s because it is. Director Brad Peyton doesn’t really go away from the standard disaster porn formula but it becomes more of the same the longer it goes on. It’s not surprising given that his first directorial effort was Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, a sequel that no one wanted to a film that no one wanted or cared about that it was made. It looks like it was made for children or for people who just want to be fed mindless destruction. Peyton also directed Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, another sequel for children that often felt tired and boring. Everything shown here isn’t what we have already seen before from past films by Michael Bay and disaster porn maestro Roland Emmerich. While those films may be fun, it’s nearly devoid of anything substantial that would set it apart from other action/disaster films. Logic seems to be thrown out the window so ridiculous events and happenings can come about more easily.
To start, there are just way too many clichés filled from top to bottom where it makes it hard for a viewer not to groan at the lazy execution of them. The main one being that a father will do anything to save his daughter somewhere in the city. You have a man who is divorced from his wife and the wife is now dating a very rich building developer who happens to be in the process of constructing a state of the art building smack dab in Los Angeles. It won’t play a part later in the film whatsoever. Of course any disaster movie needs a smart person who knows exactly what’s going on but for whatever reason, no one bothered to listen or care until it’s too late. The daughter is young and attractive whose main purpose is to be shot in a low-cut shirt revealing her cleavage. She also happens to be leaving for college and the husband is dealing with past traumas and his own inner demons that he must expunge if he has a chance of getting his wife back. There is also the random, out of the blue, lucky appearance that helps the main character to save his family. The Rock needs something as he is out in the middle of nowhere with no way of getting to his destination but luckily there is a guy who can help him with it who just so happens to be there at the right moment. Then you have the boyfriend who seems to be an alright guy but ends up being a huge dick when he is needed the most. But luckily you have a random meeting between Blake and another young and attractive guy Ben Taylor (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) where they instantly become attracted to one another and he becomes her savior when she needed him. I also can’t forget Ben’s younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) who fills the cute quotient to an annoying degree.
None of the characters are particularly engaging or even interesting in the slightest even though The Rock forces his charm through a bland veneer to make him the fun action hero that he was made to be. Acting in a disaster movie is no different than acting in a horror movie. It’s all about the reaction that you give to the horrors surrounding you so there was nothing really memorable from anyone involved but that’s to be expected. Even with the gravitas of Paul Giamatti’s immense underrated talent, he looks somewhat bored and I’m wondering what the hell he is doing in a run of the mill disaster flick. But he looks like a long tenured and experienced scientist and teacher and he also does the narration for the trailers to give them an added punch while delivering the more serious lines. But other than that there wasn’t much for him to do here. For whatever reason, pop star Kylie Minogue appeared on screen as Daniels sister Susan and met with Emma for lunch.
Out of the blue she says something stupid and horrible to Emma that no one in their right mind would say and you wonder what was even the point other than to bring up Emma’s tortured past. Thankfully she dies a horrible death when the first quake hits but you don’t end up seeing it which kinda sucked as she only had mere minutes of screen time. Why not show her being crushed or decapitated if she’s only going to be on there for one single scene? The real payoffs were seeing Los Angeles being completely obliterated beyond belief and it made for a pleasing spectacle but it became to be strained when it bordered on utter ridiculousness. The sight of The Rock and Gugino going against a rising tsunami in a boat on a near 90 degree angle while everyone else is meeting their death was like watching a cartoon come to life. It was made even more ridiculous when a rampaging tanker falls right in front of them, raining shipping containers all around them.
The destruction is quite fun to look at but it became cold and distant when no other harm was seen to other people and the after effects of Mother Nature didn’t leave much of an emotional mark on people that aren’t related to The Rock. He and his family were the focal point of the movie and no time was spent on viewing others. At first I thought we would see more of The Rocks coworkers later in the film but they were used rather sparingly. I would have liked to see how they dealt with the calamities and if they even survived the ordeal. They could be dead but it doesn’t really matter as The Rock has to save his family. The only other casualty that has any effect on the characters is Dr. Kim Chung and even when that happens you still marvel at the characters idiocy. The Hoover Dam bursts open as he and Dr. Lawrence Hayes are researching quake activity. As the dam explodes, Chung hardly runs at all and basically skips so he can see the destruction even if it meant his death. Why no one would go a full sprint upon knowing that they could die is one of the many stupid decisions that various characters make.
Like many disaster flicks, there is a young romance and it couldn’t have been more contrived here. Ben is a nice enough guy but that’s it for the most part. You don’t care about if he gets the girl or not and is just merely a placeholder as a young hero. Not even a wide gash in his leg that would definitely incapacitate him due to massive blood loss worries you. Ben finds himself below a shattering window while on the ground but thankfully they nearly all miss except for a huge shard of glass in his thigh. The wound is nearly 2 to 3 inches wide and at least an inch deep but Blake takes out the shard with no massive blood loss and you forget that his leg is nearly useless for the rest of the film. When Blake tends to his wound later on, it’s treated like a scratch or a flesh wound as all blood has ceased to flow from his leg.
I don’t know if it’s me but I’m beginning to have severe disaster movie fatigue. It seems like everything that has ever been done to every well-known city on earth from every possible natural disaster has been done to death. How many times can we see the Hollywood sign fall, a massive wave tower over buildings with ease or the Golden Gate Bridge topple like a child’s toy? There’s only so much you can do as Emmrich has simply run the gamut on the disaster porn genre, upping the ante to stupefying heights with the abysmal The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, destroying earth in two separate but similar ways. Into The Storm did the same thing last year and it was just as bad as or even worse than the aforementioned films, San Andreas included. There is only so much one can do with a genre that becomes tired so very quickly. Truthfully I’m not that big of a disaster movie fan, save for Independence Day, the vastly underrated Mars Attacks!, Twister and to a lesser extent Armageddon and Godzilla (1998). But that has more to do with the casting, utter disregard for everything logical and real to a comedic extent, downright silliness and most importantly nostalgia.
Godzilla (1998) is a downright awful film but as much as it’s hard to admit is a pretty fun movie and the same goes for Armageddon. There isn’t the same feeling while watching San Andreas as I just want it to just be a little more engaging, even if it’s inherently dumb but not too dumb. Or maybe real life horrors just don’t make disaster movies any fun as they used to. One scene harkens back to 9/11 as a massive dust cloud from a falling building takes over the street as well as anyone unlucky enough to get in its path. It was eerie and weird to see that onscreen and how far gone 9/11 has become. The screenplay by Carlton Cuse was as trite as one would expect from a disaster porn flick with overused expressions, exclamations and yelling. It’s somewhat puzzling why one of the producers and writers for Lost (one of my favorite shows ever) would join an average disaster movie. San Andreas offers so little in terms of a script that basically anyone could have written it and it was simply a waste to use a man with such great talents. They should have hired Emmrich to write the screenplay instead as he writes many of his disaster porn flicks. What bothered me a bit is that the biggest earthquake in history was shown as a 9.6 in the film. Why not just go all the way and make it a 10.0? If a disaster movie is supposed to show the most damage possible in recorded history, why not go to a level that will not be toppled ever? It's small potatoes in the long run but just another detail that bothered me.
Disaster movies know their intended audience and the audience knows what to expect from them so in that way there really is no disappointment to be made. But to everyone else, it’s way too easy to read between the lines and see how ridiculously dumb they really are. I am all for popcorn escapism and mindless destruction, but only if there is something else to back it up with. San Andreas is as paint by numbers as you can get that doesn’t really sway from the norm or realize its inert stupidity. Try as he might, The Rock does his best to make San Andreas work but he can only do so much with a below average script. But the earthquake sequences were pretty fun to see and watching buildings topple like Popsicle sticks was really cool. Then you have everything else and you want to see California be split apart again. Nothing else in the film is as appealing as seeing an entire state be ripped apart. Well maybe Alexandra Daddario but that’s another story. One and a half stunned looks while looking at destruction all around them out of five.