San Andreas: the Pompeii of 2015. Now wait! Before you go jumping off of a San Francisco skyscraper, let me assure you that my comment doesn’t carry a negative connotation. I mean, it’s not exactly an award-worthy compliment, but what I’m saying is that Brad Peyton’s latest disaster flick could have been a HELL of a lot worse (yes, Pompeii is PASSABLE). You can thank Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for that, his ready-to-burst-at-the-seams shirt choice, and the millions of Californian extras who gave their lives in the making of San Andreas. Because what better reminder of life’s fragility is there than toppling buildings and eighty-foot tsunamis leveling entire American coastlines?
But this isn’t a movie solely built on scientific research, the menacing activation of the San Andreas fault line, and repugnant businessmen who kill other people to ensure their own safety (we’ll get to this later). Heavens no! San Andreas is a wholesome family driller (drama/thriller) about a rescue worker named Ray (Dwayne Johnson) who must save his ex(ish)-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and their beautiful daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) from the largest recorded earthquake chain in history. Using a nimble helicopter as his steed, Ray rides in like a white knight to save the people he loves, and hopefully reunite the family he once had. Because if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that nothing brings a separated family together like mass hysteria, deadly chaos and Mother Nature’s vengeful fury.
From the pen (or keyboard) of writer Carlton Cuse comes a screenplay that’s riddled with every sappy cliché in the book, which puts a pause on rescue efforts whenever Ray needs to have a serious life discussion about finally expressing emotions. I’ll admit, I love this new Sentimentally-Chuckling-At-Old-Family-Photos version of The Rock we momentarily get, but all the other speeches are just barfed-up emotional garble that delay Ray and Emma from ACTUALLY finding their daughter.
They shouldn’t worry though, because like any good Hollywood blockbuster, Blake meets an adorable love interest – a dapper Englishman named Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) – and we’re once again reminded that there’s no better aphrodisiac than apocalyptic mayhem. No matter how big a piece of glass is currently piercing deep into your thigh, or how soon a wave is about to crash through your window, there’s always time to snag a quick kiss from the bodacious leading babe. Don’t worry my fellow dateless losers, if Hollywood is right, we’re all getting lucky when the world turns to shit!
I swear to you, the San Andreas screenplay is so criminally simple that I uttered one of the last lines under my breath before ol’ vein-popping Dwayne could force the fake sentiment out himself. Hell, Cuse even squeezes in an unnecessary villain for audiences to hate in Emma’s new husband Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), because crumbling buildings and massive floods aren’t bad enough. Nope. We need Daniel to showcase how human cowardice can morph into a murderous weapon when survival is on the line, complete with a booming retribution that predictably follows later. Gruffudd shows up merely to be hated, and his inclusion adds little value to the massive earthquake thriller.
But Peyton rebounds almost every one of Cuse’s airballs, and slam dunks them home with the fury of a 9.6 Earth-shaker. There’s a sprawling few minutes where an aerial camera pans over all the lavish California buildings that Peyton is about to absolutely eviscerate, and there’s a childish giddiness as we await nature’s fury. It’s not that we enjoy watching countless lives being engulfed by ash and rubble, but we’re seated for the visual grandeur of this colossal train-wreck, and Peyton doesn’t disappoint in the least.
From AT&T Park to the Golden Gate Bridge, no West Coast landmark is safe from a structural rattling that turns stable hunks of metal into twisted, wretched piles of rubble. Buildings fall like dominoes, shards of glass rain down on fleeing civilians, and clouds of dust explode with the fury of a gunshot, but there’s psychical beauty in San Francisco’s demise. This is the saving grace of San Andreas, as Peyton rides the tension brought on by a professor named Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) and his honest warnings of bigger, meaner threats that lurk underneath our very feet. We come for the “BOOM,” stay for the “BANG,” and marvel at the “WHOA” along the way.
San Andreas is the epitome of a summer blockbuster – hollow and empty on the inside, but for all the scripted problems that exist, there’s plenty of eye-popping industrial carnage to behold. It’s loud, crumbly, and dumber than a pile of rubble, but that’s exactly what we expect. There’s merit to a film that knows exactly what people want, and it takes balls to JUST deliver that. Sure, maybe more time could have been logged to expand Cuse’s script, but then maybe Peyton would have had less time to perfect his deconstruction of California. No one is showing up to San Andreas for a Sundance Film Festival experience. Here’s your natural disaster gruel, kiddies, served up hot and ready so you can shovel it down with almost no regret. All hail mainstream cinema mediocrity!
San Andreas is all "BOOM! CRASH! BANG!" and no brains, which works in the favor of this California nightmare.