‘San Andreas’ in safe hands with The Rock

28 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘San Andreas’: Why Hollywood went ahead with an original movie for this summer.

There are several requirements that must be met by any disaster movie not wanting to qualify as a disaster itself. Johnson (a.k.a. the Rock), the brawny 43-year-old cinematic charmer and smack-down king who stars in the blockbuster disaster film San Andreas, appeared recently on The Tonight Show, where a high school graduation skit he performed with host Jimmy Fallon took its cues from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

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. It was 1989 and Johnson, playing a wide-eyed jock and self-confident idiot, told his classmates to “focus on the future,” and that he was going to be “this generation’s O.J. 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.

Simpson.” Remember, this was 1989 – pre-white-Bronco Simpson, when the sublimely talented NFL running back hurdled through airports for Hertz and then landed movie roles both dramatic and comic. 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. 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. His character, Ray Gaines, may sound like an expensive pair of photochromic sunglasses, but he’s got the right stuff, working as a helicopter rescue pilot who could probably rescue an actual helicopter if it got into trouble. 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? In the opening scene, he pilots his craft into a gorge to help a motorist who’s been caught in a rockslide. “Just doin’ my job,” he tells the astonished reporter who tagged along.

PG The science may be dodgy in this blockbuster multiplex shaker, in which a series of massive earthquakes hit California, reducing Los Angeles and San Francisco to heaps of teetering skyscrapers and collapsing bridges. 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.

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. In addition to playing a heroic helicopter pilot in San Andreas, the still active WWE wrestler stars in a stylish Entourage-like ensemble comedy series set in the world of professional football. 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. Cut from the same cloth, they’re scrappy survivors who pull more than their own weight when things get rough, though they do need Ray to help them make it the last few metres to safety.

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. This includes the subplot about divorce tearing the family asunder and a smarmy new guy (Ioan Gruffudd) supplanting the stubborn old one in the marital bed.

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. He spends the movie like Chicken Little with a Ph.D., the mantra “The sky is falling” replaced with “People need to know that the shaking is not over!” Once this “whole lotta shakin’” escalates, the story follows the congruent course of Ray as he uses all manner of vehicles to get to San Francisco in search of Blake. 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. There’s the titular geological feature, a strike-slip fault that hasn’t really stretched its legs since 1906 and decides it’s been well behaved for far too long. Johnson, whose prematch speeches in the WWE revealed a sharp wit and an improvisational comic flair, was a captivating delight in 2012’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.

San Andreas employs seamless CGI and 3D effects for an alarmingly convincing depiction of the all-too-plausible scenario of seismic disaster in California, caused by shifting tectonic plates of the San Andreas Fault that crosses the state. 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.” 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 real death toll caused by earthquakes of this magnitude — exceeding 9 on the Richter scale — would result in a body count many times higher than could be shown in a movie intended for popcorn audiences.

That’s all the better to help us focus on Ray, who seems to be the only first responder left after earthquakes that began in Nevada (rupturing the Hoover Dam in one spectacular early sequence) rumble their way into California. Peyton was speaking a couple of years ago about Johnson’s self-assured authority on and off the screen. “You meet Dwayne and you realize right away that he’s Superman.” Or Hercules, as in last year’s loin-clothed epic, in which his acting earned praise, even if Brett Ratner’s direction did not. “Johnson may have been born with screen presence wired into his DNA,” wrote Variety’s Scott Foundas, “but he’s gradually cultivated the skills of a canny actor who knows just how to play to the camera and whose brute physical prowess is cut with a sly self-awareness. He knows how to skydive, how to outwit an incoming tsunami and where to stay safe in a collapsing stadium. (The San Francisco Giants’ overly precious waterfront baseball park is only one of the city’s numerous landmarks to be shredded, squished, blended, sliced and diced.) But everybody else in California can go jump in the state’s suddenly exposed central butt crack, basically, because Ray’s comin’ for his daughter. 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.

His former wrestling nickname “The Rock” barely describes what a mountain of beefcake this guy is, and Johnson agreeably flexes his muscles on cue. 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. He’s a great improviser, hot-wiring cars, “borrowing” aircraft and breaking all the rules as he first races to Emma’s aid in L.A. and then to Blake’s in San Francisco. He succeeds in something like the fluffy 2010 comedy-fantasy Tooth Fairy and out-shines one-trick tough guy Vin Diesel in The Fast and The Furious franchise. Not since Arnold Schwarzenegger – who literally tipped his hat to Johnson in 2003’s The Rundown – has an athlete shown such shelf life and versatility.

Blake demonstrates resourcefulness of her own, as she meets-cute and then teams with British engineer Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his precocious kid brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) in a bid to reach higher ground. Last week in London, at the world premiere of San Andreas, Johnson set a Guinness World Record for taking the most selfies – 105 – in under three minutes. Lawrence speaks to the threatened masses through the ready camera of TV journalist (Archie Panjabi as Serena), warning them about the danger of underestimating the wrath of Mother Nature, but it’s always with fatherly concern and a divine blessing.

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. During quiet moments between aftershocks, Ray and Emma talk about their relationship and whose fault it was that it fell apart — but not for too long, as they both have much bigger faults to contend with. Trying to reach Blake, they steal almost every type of vehicle known to man, then head for Daniel’s half-finished San Francisco skyscraper, on the assumption that their daughter will make for the tallest, strongest, most ironic place to be rescued.

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. Peyton — who hails from Newfoundland; man from The Rock directs The Rock vs. rocks! — makes good use of 3D in the earthquake and rescue scenes (i.e., all of them).

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”? Dive under a table or, if you’re outside, find a secure wall. “Having Paul Giamatti shouting, ‘Drop, cover and hold on!’ and the Rock telling people to crouch against a wall if they can is one heck of a PSA,” Hough said. 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. Since the entire film hinges on viewers getting caught up in the destruction of the West Coast, the clean and vivid 3-D presentation is crucial to the you-are-there factor.

I don’t begrudge anyone their desire to melt their brain with this bullshit extravaganza, and don’t begrudge Dwayne Johnson his exorbitant salary. Meanwhile, a trio of scriptwriters, one of whom produced a TV show called I Shouldn’t Be Alive, manage the most difficult of disaster-movie feats: they make us feel mildly bad about the deaths of thousands of innocents (plus that cad Richard), while keeping us focused and invested in the lives of just five.

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