Cinemagoers often make decisions about the films they want to see based on the promotion material available and it is not unreasonable to do so. The posters and trailers for San Andreas promised us the epic battle of a lifetime ‘The Rock versus The Earthquake’ sadly the film does not deliver on its initial premise.
The end result is a disappointingly generic, by-the-numbers disaster film that offers absolutely nothing original to the audience, with a cliché ridden plot that is almost a ‘Best of…’ compilation of every other disaster film ever made.
San Andreas opens with a reckless young woman driving dangerously on a perilous mountain road in California. Why do writers insist on creating such unsympathetic characters? We see her check her mobile phone whilst driving on a winding road, she then reaches down under her seat to get a drink, completely oblivious to the oncoming traffic. She is finally forced off the road and down the rugged cliff face by an earthquake, mercifully before she can be the cause of any accident herself. My enduring memory of all 107 minutes of San Andreas is wondering why exactly anybody felt the need to write this character as such a terrible, unsafe driver? I have to believe the inciting incident of an earthquake would have been far more impactful, had she been a safe, prudent and conscientious road user.
The film introduces the audience to The Rock playing Los Angeles Fire and Rescue pilot, Raymond ‘Ray’ Gaines, yes that is his character’s name. Let us hope that if there is a sequel the character has been promoted to the rank of Major, because looking at The Rock’s physique in San Andreas, major gains was what immediately sprung to mind.
One of my many issues with San Andreas is how miscast Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is in this role. Ray Gaines is set up as an All-American action hero, the leader of a Los Angeles Fire and Rescue team, who combined with their time serving in Iraq have performed over 600 (yes, 600) rescues. The opening suggests a film about a close-knit rescue team of brothers in arms who, led by The Rock save lives despite the odds being stacked against them. I wanted to see THAT film, not this lukewarm family drama set against the backdrop of a devastating earthquake.
The Rock is one of the most bankable action stars in Hollywood, an actor that always brings a reliable physicality to his performances; here he is wasted spending most of the action scenes operating a vehicle of some kind. He never really gets a chance to break out and play to his strengths.
The plot is as follows, Ray is separated from his wife, Emma played by Carla Gugino, their marriage deteriorated when one of their children died in a rafting accident that Ray blames himself for. The strain of losing a child saw them drift apart, yet the audience does not even receive this information until well over halfway through the film, and even when it is addressed, it is done so with absolutely no subtlety or depth.
Throughout the film Ray and Emma’s relationship is shown to be one of trust and mutual respect, yet at the same time the film asks us to believe that Emma would coldly spring divorce papers on her husband without any prior warning and then callously move in with another man, billionaire psychopath, Daniel Riddick played by Ioan Gruffudd. Emma is an inconsistent character that goes from one extreme to the other, one minute divorcing Ray, the next loving him, one minute loving Daniel, the next minute literally wishing death on him.
I also need to address the character of Daniel Riddick. He initially starts off playing the role of Pierce Brosnan’s character Stu in Mrs Doubtfire, the slightly sleazy new beau in a divorced woman’s life, before he quickly becomes Satan himself, all in the space of forty minutes. Intially he leaves Ray and Emma’s daughter, Blake trapped beneath an underground car park, presumably because he was suffering from shellshock having being caught in a devastating earthquake. He immediately goes straight to eleven on the film villain scale by throwing a man to his death. He ultimately meets his end on the Golden Gate bridge, where he is crushed by a shipping container in an event that I can only assume shows us that the San Andreas fault is a just and vengeful God.
What follows is a series of events we have all seen before, the Hollywood sign is destroyed, we are shown a street of high-rise buildings as a wave of destruction moves through the gridlocked cars, and Jake Gyllenhaal is trapped in the New York public library and forced to fight off a pack of angry wolves on ship that has run ashore, before the film climaxes with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum’s daring attempt to upload a virus to the alien mother ship.
Okay, so I admit, those last two scenes are from The Day after Tomorrow and Independence Day respectively but that is exactly my point, we have seen this film a dozen times before, San Andreas does nothing to distinguish itself.
Paul Giamatti is criminally underused for two thirds of the film before his character disappears completely, only returning to neatly wrap up the plot for the audience. I check the end credits, his character’s official name is ‘Scientist who is an expert in his field, yet constantly needs to be reminded of the most basic aspects of his job for the audience’s privilege, he whose entire dialogue consists of exposition, the boffin that always needs a laptop at hand to convey visual information to the audience’ or Lawrence for short, his character has no role other than plot device, his sub-plot is never resolved and his path never crosses with the main plot, he only exists to tell the audience what is about to happen, in vague scientific sounding ways. I am an admirer of Giamatti’s work but here he plays possibly the loudest man on planet earth, he is constantly shouting orders at people. One wonders whether his prescient ability to predict earthquake patterns is due to his constant yelling actually being the cause of them.
The film does have a few redeeming features, the tsunami scene is spectacular enough, particularly in 3-d for anybody with a fear of crushing walls of water (I call them reasonable and sensible people) it is sure to provide a little adrenaline rush.
I can go through a brief rundown of the highlights of San Andreas few as they are, Ray and Emma parachute onto the baseball field at AT & T Park in San Francisco where Ray delivers the line “It’s been a while since I got to second base with you”. Blake, their daughter meets two young Englishmen, the eldest Ben being a love interest for Blake who tells her “Looks like we’re going to Knob Hill” perhaps killing any potential romance before it even started and we even get a brief and bizarre cameo from Australian pop royalty Kylie Minogue who is cast as Daniel’s sister.
If you are looking for a relatively mindless summer disaster flick, San Andreas does nothing particularly wrong, yet at the same time, I could not possibly recommend it. Mad Max: Fury Road redefined what an audience should expect from a summer blockbuster, delivering thrills and brains. San Andreas delivers neither and I cannot think of a single reason to justify its existence.