San Andreas review: Dwayne Johnson’s the saving grace of this disaster

29 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Can San Andreas shake box office?.

In Dwayne Johnson, we believe. When “Earthquake” was released in 1974, it not only had Sensurround but also a cast led by Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree and Walter Matthau.LOS ANGELES – California’s long-feared mega quake hits movie screens this week with ‘San Andreas,’ but the big-budget movie has thrown up a fault line between critics and filmgoers even before its release. San Andreas, where a gigantic earthquake hits California, carefully spaces out its big moments: the Hoover Dam goes early, followed by the Hollywood sign, but after the scene shifts to San Francisco director Brad Peyton makes us wait, teasingly, for the moment when the Golden Gate Bridge twists like a ribbon and slides into the sea.

This is (somewhat literally) a groundbreaking movie and not just because of it has three massive earthquakes rumbling through its duration, but because San Andreas may actually be about a marriage rather than natural disasters. The movie, which stars Dwayne Johnson, has only a 41 percent critics’ rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film review website – although 96 percent of cinema-goers say they want to see it. All eyes will be watching whether the flick, with its $100 million budget, can shake the box office after a lackluster week or two at the start of the traditional summer blockbuster season. The fault co-stars with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in “San Andreas,” a 3D thriller rumbling into 3,777 theaters nationwide today, according to Box Office Mojo.

The movie, whose title refers to the San Andreas fault – the geological rift feared mostly likely to produce a mega quake in California – depicts San Francisco in ruins. In fact, this disaster flick avoids being a complete disaster and a cliche thanks to Johnson’s star turn and mind-boggling, highly detailed special effects. The star once known as The Rock has the magnetism and muscle, literally and figuratively, of two or three actors, and the visual effects are so remarkable and realistic that it seems as though you’re watching horrifying news footage at times.

But where Arnie always seemed uneasy combining these roles, to the Rock it comes naturally: he’s the ultimate idealised dad, a human shield protecting America from harm. Can the tectonic line, which runs about 800 miles on land from the Mendocino coast to the Salton Sea, actually do what’s depicted in computer-generated glory onscreen? When the fault lines appear in Ray (Dwayne Johnson) and Emma’s (Carla Gugino) marriage, the ground shifts beneath their feet (and eventually beneath the feet of everyone in California).

But those behind the film say they hope it moves beyond the traditional disaster movie by bringing emotion and personal stories to the screen. ‘It is an opportunity to redefine the genre,’ Johnson said ahead of the film’s US release this Friday. ‘This is a fantastic epic it raises the bar of the disaster movie.’ ‘Generally when you watch this kind of movie you remember the action, the hero, how cool they were. The disaster movie opens with a search-and-rescue helicopter crew from the LA Fire Department trying to pluck a young woman from her car, which somersaulted over a cliff and is teetering on the rocky hillside. A fair amount of intelligence has gone into San Andreas – but not into the extremely corny dialogue, which seems designed to make the audience groan. Carlton Cuse’s script shuttles between perspectives in a manner that lets Peyton use 3D as an integral part of the storytelling rather than an afterthought: as rescue helicopter pilot Chief Ray Gaines, Johnson spends most of the film flying around searching for his college-age daughter (Alexandra Daddario), while we share his God’s-eye view of the devastation below. Johnson, whose past action credits include the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, plays rescue chopper pilot Ray, whose wife, Emma (played by Carla Gugino), recently left him for a rich architect.

When a massive quake hits Los Angeles and a seismologist predicts another imminent and even bigger one in San Francisco, the pair are forced to set aside their differences to rescue their only daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Ray’s ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is the focal point of the most hectic set-piece, where the camera follows her efforts to flee a crumbling skyscraper for several minutes without a cut. Although the film is certainly visually spectacular – making full use of the latest computer generated imagery (CGI) effects – some critics have not been kind. ‘California crumbles spectacularly in an action movie that quickly degenerates from blissfully stupid to fatally stupid,’ wrote industry journal Variety’s Andrew Barker. ‘Does for San Francisco what ‘Jaws’ did for the ocean,’ said Kam Williams of Baret News. ‘Thankfully, the action set pieces are exciting enough, and come at such a successive clip that it’s only afterward that you have the chance to pause and ask questions about the plot,’ said Alonso Duralde of TheWrap.com. His wife Emma (Carla Guigino) is divorcing him and moving in with her rich boyfriend whom we are sure we will find as the villain of the piece pretty soon.

But experts hope the takeaway for moviegoers, and for all Southern Californians, is remembering that earthquakes are real in California and it’s worth making safety preparations. “I like a fun movie, and sometimes movies with terrible science are still entertaining,” said David Oglesby, a professor in the Earth Sciences Department at UC Riverside. “But the kinds of things you see in this movie are not realistic.” For one thing, the movie’s title star isn’t as big as portrayed – hardly a first for Hollywood. Paul Giamatti, meanwhile, is perfectly cast as the anti-Rock, a jittery seismologist who seems on the verge of tearing his remaining hair out as he warns of what’s to come.

Variety reported Wednesday that the Warner Bros movie is on course to make $40 million domestically in its opening weekend, while also rolling out across some 60 countries worldwide. Only Caltech scientist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) can read the activity of tectonic plates and forecasts the Big One is about to strike them all, exactly two minutes before it does strike. After the first quake scene when we are treated to a wide shot of the ground under Los Angeles doing the worm, followed by Ray’s helicopter maneuvering around falling buildings like they’re debris on the street, the action in the film gets repetitive. Giamatti and Johnson never share a scene, but their characters’ aims are wholly compatible: the blue-collar war veteran and the egghead, working side by side to save the day.

Emma’s decision rocks the foundations of Ray and Emma’s relationship just as an earthquake rocks the foundations of many a multistoreyed building in downtown LA. The gold standard was set by 1974’s ‘Earthquake’ starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, with several TV movies following, including 2006’s ‘10.5: Apocalypse.’ ‘San Andreas’ screenwriter Carlton Cuse himself recalls the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake outside Los Angeles which killed 72 people in 1994. Had it been not for the sweet boy from across the Atlantic Ben (Hugo Johnstone Burt) and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), she would have been dead.

It felt like watching the same sports highlights on different channels – there’s some variation between each station but it’s basically the same thing. Indeed, Giamatti’s character is the film’s real hero, since his expert pronouncements succeed in drastically reducing the quake’s death toll – freeing us to enjoy the spectacle of catastrophe without too many qualms. At the 5.11 Tactical Store in Riverside, which features emergency, off-the-grid supplies including freeze-dried food, water filters and rucksacks sized for 24 to 72 hours in the field, retail manager Jessica McGrady expected business to increase after the movie’s release. “Especially living in California – people don’t think about it too often because we haven’t had a big earthquake in a while,” she said.

It’s off to the rescue races as Ray turns into a veritable Superman, minus the cape and with the ability to fly although in a chopper or plane or boat skimming over churning, debris-infested waters. It is on this pedantic note that San Andreas chastises the arrogance of Silicon Valley’s tech boom and San Francisco’s skyrocketing real estate market.

The store has a “Load Out” section dedicated to survival supplies, she said. “You need to have an emergency preparedness bag in the car and in the house,” she said. “These movies do get you thinking about what could happen, so it’s good for people to be prepared.” The hero is a blue-collar man who labours with his hands instead of in abstractions like “design,” “brand” and “bitcoin.” His prize is not venture capital, but the nuclear family. (Completing Ray’s family portrait is Carla Gugino as Emma, the ex-wife-turned-reunited-love-interest.) Although there have been discussions around the film’s marketing and release in light of the recent earthquake in Nepal, the crisis has had seemingly little effect on San Andreas’s premiere.

The couple, who’ve been married for seven years, appeared to fight in the staged interview, with Sebastian becoming increasingly frustrated with his wife’s questions about everything from his trademark afro to his weight. In the middle of all this, Giamatti’s Lawrence keeps on popping up, warning a reporter (Archie Punjabi) that there is one even bigger quake on its way. While the video was mostly well-received, many people were left scratching their heads over the purpose of the video and why the singer and his wife had staged a fake argument. “We staged a fight and I got her to ask me all the things I’ve literally been asked a million times in interviews, things about my afro and the moment I won Idol and how I felt and all that stuff,” Sebastian said. “You don’t walk around changing people’s lives with your Celine bag,” Sebastian says to his wife in the clip. “Who did I marry? Giamatti’s character to provide a scientific explanation for what’s happening (it’s big and it’s bad, with egghead talk kept to a minimum) the movie is almost all action all the time with the dam disaster just the ominous opening act for what’s to come in the Golden State.

Fortified only by a love of their daughter, Ray and Emma approach a series of record-breaking earthquakes and a tsunami as though surviving them is merely a test of their willpower. Outside of Ray ripping off a car door in the film’s opening scene and rescuing his wife (both happen in the first 3o minutes), he’s pretty useless. A couple of scenes — notably with actors in the foreground, catastrophic destruction in the background — seem like a marriage of real and reel, but the panoramic shots look authentic and a water-logged rescue may have you holding your breath. “San Andreas,” directed by Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) and available in 2-D or 3-D, is like the disaster movies of old, which followed a set formula. The inaugural Australian Idol winner arrived home in Sydney overnight after placing fifth in the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, with his song Tonight Again storming up the European iTunes charts.

The only nod to the emerging technologies that have shaped the country’s new economy is a hacking scheme that is quickly introduced by a Caltech professor (played by Paul Giamatti, because why not?) and just as swiftly dropped. When the Nepal Earthquake took place a month before the release of San Andreas, the production house went in a huddle debating how to market this film. This time the film does not evoke Titanic, but rather the highly publicized engagement of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, which took place on that exact spot two years ago. Despite a good cast, the one-dimensional script, the guffaw-worthy dialogues and cheesy plot devices ensure that you end up laughing at the wrong places.

The scene perfectly captures the film’s warring sense of what makes the United States (and San Andreas) exceptional – it is glossy and ostentatious, but sombre and traditional, too. Each time he appears, one extra or another interrupts him mid-sentence with, “Dr Hayes, you have to see this!” One the plus side, he gets to cosy up with Punjabi under a desk, so the role did come with some perks. In fact, there are times when you actually miss Roland Emmerich (2012, Independence Day) and his wizardry of making mayhem so plausible and convincing.

One can’t imagine any studio would have dared to release a film about hurricanes devastating cities in America just about a month after Hurricane Katrina, for example. We’re unperturbed by the sight of earthquakes swallowing people and devastating landscapes despite the fact that there’s less than six degrees of separation between us Indians and the Nepal earthquakes.

It’s flat, formulaic and thorough unthrilling, which is an achievement in itself considering there’s a car crash within 10 seconds of the opening credit, followed by three earthquakes, numerous aftershocks and one tsunami.

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