Review – San Andreas

Anyone expecting a disaster movie of disastrous proportions may be pleasantly surprised by this unashamedly dumb but fun multiplex-friendly popcorn fodder.

Since the release of the Charlton Heston-starring Earthquake in 1974, Hollywood has merrily laid waste to various parts of the world (mostly New York) in a multitude of different ways, be it attacking monsters, aliens, meteors or even solar flares.

Hardly a work of great originality or vision, but San Andreas is far from a disaster

Hardly a work of great originality or vision, but San Andreas is far from a disaster

The biggest culprit remains good old Mother Nature, though; and while we’ve sat through exploding volcanoes, extreme weather, tornadoes, tsunamis and floods, it’s hard to believe we’ve had to wait more than 40 years for another earthquake movie to hit the big screen.

Was it worth the wait? Well, kind of. There’s no doubt San Andreas delivers in the visual effects department, with Los Angeles and San Francisco being torn asunder by a cavalcade of super-destructive quakes; but anyone going into the movie with delusions of anything except nuts and bolts genre filmmaking should probably lower their expectations.

Chief Raymond 'Ray' Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) in San Andreas

Chief Raymond ‘Ray’ Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) in San Andreas

Carlton Cuse’s screenplay ticks off the clichés with shameless abandon. Our hero, LA Fire Department helicopter-rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is brilliant at his job, but his personal life is a mess. His estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is filing for divorce to shack up with wealthy real estate developer Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), while his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is slipping further away.

Just as all hope for a reconciliation appears dead, the San Andreas fault dutifully decides to shift its tectonic plates, causing a cataclysmic series of ever-increasing earthquakes and giving Ray the chance to save Emma and Blake – and his marriage – from the ensuing chaos.

Blake (Alexandra Daddario) hangs out with brothers Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson) in San Andreas

Blake (Alexandra Daddario) hangs out with brothers Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson) in San Andreas

As many a Roland Emmerich movie has attested, the performances in disaster movies generally play second fiddle to the sensory-shredding effects. While San Andreas isn’t really any different, it at least tries to make you root for its key characters, thanks in no small part to the central performance of Johnson – an underrated actor who refuses to  phone it in despite the ramshackle material he occasionally has to work with.

Johnson gives a solid turn as Ray and even comes close to welling up in one reflective scene opposite the reliable Gugino. Daddario is less engaging, although she’s made to look better than she actually is opposite a pair of annoyingly posh English brothers played by Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson.

"You're not paying me enough!" - Paul Giamatti plays seismologist Lawrence Hayes in San Andreas

“You’re not paying me enough!” – Paul Giamatti plays seismologist Lawrence Hayes in San Andreas

Paul Giamatti, meanwhile, adds an extra bit of gravitas to the film (think Ian Holm in 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow) as another of those genre staples, the scientist no-one listens to until it’s too late, while the wooden spoon goes to the sleep-walking Gruffudd, whose make-up-ridden face is looking particularly strange these days.

To say San Andreas follows a narrative straight line probably won’t come as a surprise, but there’s a guilty pleasure to be had in watching the west coast sliding into the Pacific. Hardly a work of great originality or vision then, but San Andreas is far from a disaster.

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9 comments

  1. Mark Hobin · May 31, 2015

    This movie had a lot of “faults”. Sorry. I know!

  2. le0pard13 · May 31, 2015

    Well, since this film genre just “loves” my hometown, it’s a must-see for my household. Will be checking it out soon. Thanks, Mark. 🙂

  3. Tom · May 31, 2015

    Yeah this was pretty harmless stuff, wasn’t it? I liked Johnson and Gugino together. They came off better than anyone else in this

  4. Great review! I have to confess I love movies like this. You don’t have to think. Just sit there and be impressed by the cool special effects. I found it interesting what you said about Dwayne Johnson. I remember when I heard he was going into acting. All I could do was roll my eyes. He’s since impressed me with how consistently good he is. 😊

  5. ruth · June 1, 2015

    This looks absolutely preposterous, but most disaster movies are. I might give it a rent though Mark, as you didn’t hate this one 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · June 2, 2015

      Certainly didn’t hate it. It’s no masterpiece but I really wasn’t expecting it to be.

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