Rock on top of shaky ‘San Andreas’ world

28 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘San Andreas’ review: Dwayne Johnson’s latest will satisfy thrill-seekers.

Friday’s opening comes during a particularly strong streak for The Rock. Considered as pure spectacle, “San Andreas” is gripping and effective, as well as a somewhat interesting form of counter-narrative: A vision of near-term apocalypse that has nothing to do with climate change, monsters or alien invaders. San Andreas, which casts him as a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot, explodes in theaters even as his mega-hit Furious 7 continues to roll at the box office. But a determined Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is focused on saving the day for his onscreen family, proving once again that blood relations are critical in the midst of a movie disaster.

Johnson says the already-hot Furious franchise was propelled to another level with the farewell to standout star Paul Walker, who died in a car crash on Nov. 30, 2013. “It was a lot of different elements coming together at the same time, and the lead element being Paul, seeing him for the very last time,” Johnson told theater owners last month at CinemaCon convention. The sequence of huge earthquakes that will reduce California’s two greatest cities to rubble and slurry hasn’t even started, and we’ve pretty much seen the movie.

So when an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes hits California along the San Andreas fault, he’s determined to get to San Francisco to rescue his other daughter Blake (True Detective’s Alexandra Daddario, displaying plenty of charisma and chutzpah), no matter what the risks. But Johnson added his own star power as Luke Hobbs, with Rentrak analyst Paul Dergarabedian calling him “the ultimate box-office supercharger when added to the mix of existing franchises.” In March, Johnson hosted Saturday Night Live, opening with a skit about being “franchise Viagra.” His films — including the G.I .Joe, Fast & Furious and Journey to the Center of the Earth franchises — have grossed almost $5.7 billion, according to Rentrak. Danger and disaster are still a test of masculinity, but the model of masculinity has shifted a little: A new kind of manhood is in vogue, or maybe it’s the old kind with a few moral and epistemological nips and tucks. A legion of talented technicians ensures that everything in the foreground and background is teetering, collapsing, burning, flooding or some combination thereof. It is also Johnson, one of the genuine nice guys in the shark-infested world of Hollywood, who gives us the reason to watch Brad Peyton’s earthquake thriller.

From the opening foreboding choral strains, to the hilarious flag fluttering “now, we rebuild” denouement, San Andreas plays like a greatest hits package of action movies from the past quarter-century. Next month, he steps into the coveted HBO arena with new series Ballers (premiering June 21), which stars Johnson as a superstar athlete trying to reinvent himself as a financial manager. So as you can already see, “San Andreas” isn’t just pure spectacle, even if it contains some of the best scenes of CGI destruction in the recent Hollywood tradition, delivered with much more weight and realism than in Michael Bay’s mind-numbing “Transformers” movies, for example. Variety’s Andrew Barker writes that the movie delivers on its promise of “complete CGI destruction of California” and Johnson’s “jackfruit-sized biceps” but along the lines it becomes too repetitive and suffers from “spectacle overkill.” “…(you know what’s cooler than an apocalyptic earthquake?

Impossibly muscle-bound but never even remotely as stupid as the plots of most of his movies, Johnson is a bonafide action hero who makes us feel safe in the middle of chaos and crisis. Like nearly all Hollywood movies, it carries an ideological message – and like all Hollywood movies in an age where most of Hollywood’s money is made overseas, that message is bafflingly vague.

Two apocalyptic earthquakes…and a tsunami) and a fatal lack of invention in its second, more concerned with toppling buildings one by one than ever drumming up a lick of suspense about the fates of those inside them,” he writes. Johnson’s character is searching for his wife and daughter during the film. “We wanted to redefine the disaster genre, and part of that was by introducing elements that weren’t in the other movies, like family and heart,” he said.

To be fair, as an earthquake educational video it’s actually not bad (take cover under a table, find a rotary phone for communication), with Paul Giamatti’s (doing his best Richard Dreyfuss impersonation) CalTech scientist offering plenty of good advice for those caught up in a quake, while also delivering some slightly less credible science, as things ramp up to near apocalyptic, or as Hollywood calls it – 2012 – proportions. There’s a bit of flag-waving towards the end of “San Andreas,” and a passing reference to the idea that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might not have been entirely pointless – because crucible of manhood, something something – but mostly the message is that dad-type guys are still cool in this era of modified gender relations, and the nuclear family can still be redeemed. And movie executives may be banking on Johnson himself as well. “In terms of consumer appeal, he’s in the league there with Brad Pitt,” Henry Schafer, a spokesman for Q Scores Co., which tracks celebrity appeal with the public, told the New York Times. (NYT writer Melena Ryzik noted Johnson’s name recognition isn’t as high as others in Hollywood yet but that the actor has international appeal.) And the gamble could pay off, Variety writer Brent Lang noted. “If ‘San Andreas’ works, it would establish a lucrative new direction for tentpole productions based on original story ideas,” Lang wrote. Forbes writer Scott Mendelson noted that “[director] Brad Peyton and company only spent $100 million on ‘San Andreas’ as well, which means the film doesn’t have to become an out-of-this-world blockbuster to turn a profit or at least break even.” Hollywood is most likely betting that “San Andreas” can be at the very least an under-the-radar summer success.

In between a heavy promotional worldwide schedule for San Andreas (current stop: China), Johnson has already started filming the comedy Central Intelligence with Kevin Hart, in which he plays a lethal but dorky hitman. “Things are great right now, but you’ve got to hustle,” he says. “You have to create opportunities for yourself. Already rocked by the drowning death of one child, he’s saddened to learn his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), and daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), are moving in with a fancy-pants architect (Ioan Gruffudd). But the disaster-movie template so rigorously observed by “San Andreas” – the first A-grade Hollywood flick for Canadian director Brad Peyton, from a script by TV veteran Carlton Cuse – reeks of desperation, or maybe just deeply ingrained ludicrousness and laziness.

San Francisco, where Johnson and Gugino’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario) happens to be with her mom’s new loser boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), is going to get it in the second wave. He was already in a relatively minor 4.7 magnitude quake in 2009. “I was right under my chandelier in this large foyer, and all of a sudden it started to shake. Michael Phillips, who found the movie more enjoyable than others, notes, “I enjoyed large chunks of , largely because the actors give it a full load of sincerity, and there’s some bizarrely effective comic relief thanks to Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson as Brits who picked the wrong week to visit the Bay Area.” Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter credits Johnson’s acting skills for keeping the movie from falling apart with every earthquake. The absurdity of San Andreas — the movie and not the fault line — is that Johnson, his family members and two intrepid British friends that Daddario encounters in Frisco repeatedly escape death by split seconds, by millimetres, by a single last breath underwater, by sheer happenstance and by Johnson’s daring-do.

It has a certain thematically claustrophobic narrative structure and somewhat thin character development,” he writes. “For those who just came to see the show, with the show in this case being the jaw-dropping carnage and much of California being laid to waste by earthquakes and the like, absolutely delivers in spades.” He gets to defy logic, laws of gravity and physics and any level of believability to out-wit, out-run, out-fly and out-whatever everything that comes his way. A month ago, Johnson, his longtime girlfriend Lauren Hashian and his 13-year-old daughter Simone (with ex-wife Dany Garcia) practiced quake drills and stocked disaster kits (quirky item: his beloved Pop-Tarts). The weird thing about it is that we can enjoy it so much, even while masses of ordinary folks — and the occasional cowardly villain — are wiped out in the aftermath of the multiple disasters that earthquakes can cause.

They also suggest what it might have been like, at least in part, for the people of Nepal who have actually had to endure an earthquake double-whammy over the past five weeks. Among this movie’s casting oddities we have the fact that Johnson and Gugino are both 43 years old in real life, making them an unusually age-appropriate couple for the movies – while Daddario, who plays their daughter, is 29. As outrageous as is the image of a tsunami-propelled container ship cutting the Golden Gate Bridge in half, it gets presented with maximum believability. While I don’t want to go deep on this question, I will also mention the delicate topic that Blake is, um, pretty much white, and does not look not as if she has a father who is part African-American and part Pacific Islander. But we all know that San Andreas is just an entertainment, even with the obvious body count from the ravages of the earthquakes, the collapsing buildings, the fires and the floods.

From his early days on Vince McMahon’s wrestling circuit as the Rock, Johnson always appeared to be in on the joke, and to possess a strange combination of mockery and niceness that made him stand out. “Finally – finally! – the Rock has returned to Oshkosh!” he would announce with a beatific glow, affecting not to notice the lusty boos raining down from the citizens of Oshkosh. All by himself, Johnson almost rescued the incomprehensible mess of Richard Kelly’s unfinished magnum opus “Southland Tales” with pure good cheer, playing the dim but endlessly supportive boyfriend to porn star and sports-drink entrepreneur Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Paul Giamatti, character schlub par excellence, earns a decent paycheck as the seismologist who sees this all coming, and I’m sorry we don’t see more of Kylie Minogue in a teensy, bitchy cameo that threatens to eat the whole movie. We’re not even quite to June – and this is the next-to-last of the really big summer flicks, with only “Jurassic World” left to go! (What’s that you say? “Ant-Man”? Did you really just admit that you’re gonna be scrunching up the beach towel with your toes, and wishing it wasn’t so long until “Ant-Man”?) There’s a lot more to say about the way that Hollywood is pushing forward into new technical terrain – the effects here are awe-inspiring at times – while sliding backwards in narrative terms and at best sideways when it comes to depicting social reality.

I don’t begrudge anyone their desire to melt their brain with this bullshit extravaganza, and don’t begrudge Dwayne Johnson his exorbitant salary.

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