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

28 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Millions of people die in the gonzo disaster movie San Andreas. “San Andreas” is going to do one of two things once the rubble clears: It will either put an end to the disaster movie genre for a long while, so catastrophic that nothing can follow it, or it will open the floodgates to more onscreen calamity.

Disaster movies, which predate the zeitgeist’s fascination with a world falling apart around us, are always great measures of the state of the Hollywood art of special effects.Dwayne Johnson stars as a helicopter-rescue pilot trying to save his family after a massive earthquake that is more ridiculous than impressive, though the scale is enormous.

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. What happens will most likely depend on how willing moviegoers are to seeing California nearly wiped off the globe after the long-promised Big One finally shows itself.

In “San Andreas,” you will believe the ground is rippling under Los Angeles, the cracking collapse of the Hoover Dam and a tidal wave that submerges San Francisco. In this roller-coaster ride of a disaster flick, Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a rescue-chopper pilot with a soon-to-be ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino); a perky daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario); and a past family tragedy that feels completely unnecessary.

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. 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. Taking into account after shocks and that various localities feel each other’s quakes, the filmmakers figure out a way to keep things shaking for most of the movie’s 114 minutes.

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. And the actor nicknamed for a geological feature earns that nickname all over again by being that sturdy force of nature the whole movie is anchored on. 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? 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. 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.

And while after about an hour, the sight of buildings exploding and imploding starts to get numbing, the movie stays alive by focusing on the micro-disasters, as well, like what it’s like for a person to be inside a building as it’s pancaking, or to be trapped inside a car in a basement garage, right before a cave in. Johnson believes what he’s seeing — buildings tumbling like dominoes, fires erupting, his chopper crashing, the sea fleeing San Francisco Bay — and we do, too. Naturally Johnson’s character has little time for such moral conundrums, instead intent on brushing off the worst that Mother Nature (and feral Bakersfield residents, portrayed as even less savoury than Hope & Wire’s pre-earthquake Christchurchians) can throw at him and delivering the occasional cringe-worthy line like “its been a while since I got you to second base,” while parachuting into Candlestick Park with his estranged wife.

The earthquakes are the stars of “San Andreas,” and no one pretends otherwise, but there are actual people in the movie, because debris has to fall on somebody. The script and director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) never escape the time-honored formula for disaster movies — the warnings, unheeded; the shortsighted builder (Ioan Gruffudd); the disaster-imposed love interest (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) thrown together with the hot coed. If you want a more realistic family struggle during disaster, check into the far superior Naomi Watts movie “The Impossible.” The special effects and especially the 3-D are top-notch.

Paul Giamatti, walking a line between drama (on the surface) and comedy (what he’s really thinking), plays a seismologist whose mission is to predict catastrophic earthquakes. What “San Andreas” • Two and a half stars out of four • Run time 1:47 • Rating PG-13 • Content Intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, brief strong language 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. Dwayne Johnson plays the man of action, a rescue pilot who, at the start of the movie, has the same family difficulty that Liam Neeson had at the start of “Taken.” His workaholism has wrecked his marriage, and now his wife (Carla Gugino) and loving daughter (Alexandra Daddario) are living in the Los Angeles mansion of a rich guy. 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.”

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. Ray and his team are going to fly up to the dam to help with rescue efforts, so Blake flies to school with Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), the ultra-rich oily developer her mother Emma (Carla Gugino) has been seeing, on his private jet. 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. And that Hollywood’s best craftsfolk at Digital Domain, House of Moves and other effects houses are getting even better at re-creating those worst-case scenarios we love so much — in our movies, at least.

If anything, the young people are even better—Daddario as the capable daughter, a chip off the old Rock; and Hugo Johnstone-Burt as the lucky young Englishman who will soon be her boyfriend, if they can both survive the next 24 hours. 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.

This film is conservative in its approach in that man is not to blame, unlike some of the environmentally charged disaster films like “Frogs” that enjoyed a brief vogue, also in the 1970s. He obviously has a rapport with Johnson and the other leads, while working equally well with support players such as Paul Giamatti (as the seismologist), Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt and spunky child actor Art Parkinson.

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