Sunday Herald review: San Andreas (12A)

31 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Box Office: ‘San Andreas’ Rocks Out With $18.2M Friday, Bradley Cooper’s ‘Aloha’ Crumbles.

This excellent disaster movie caters to the voyeur in us all – or, at least, those of us spared the nightmarish experience of our recent homegrown earthquakes – by giving us front-row seats at the spectacular large-scale devastation of California.San Andreas had a faultless start to its debut weekend, as the Dwayne Johnson earthquake adventure scored a whopping $18.2 million on Friday, including $3.1m in Thursday previews.”It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” warns a scientist, while at the first scene of trouble someone barks, “get the hell out of there!” “Who should we call?” asks a worried reporter. “Everybody,” replies an expert.

San Andreas is elevated further above the genre by the canny casting of Paul Giamatti (once Sideways, now everything of note) and a surprisingly good alumnus of Home and Away, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who dons a fine English accent and helps to break the film out of being just another American-feeling movie about America getting pummelled (there are Welsh and British actors in the ensemble, too, and even a strange cameo from an Aussie popstar, a sign Hollywood is becoming pleasingly cosmopolitan). The previous biggest opening day for a “by myself” movie star vehicle for The Rock is the $12.5m Friday and the $36m weekend of The Scorpion King way back in 2002.

Despite the bog-standard disaster set-up (devoted divorced dad who works for Fire & Rescue; ex-wife moving on; plucky daughter in tight jeans), the action is absolutely thrilling from go to whoa. Adjusted for inflation that would be around $17.5m for Friday and $50m for the weekend, which is around where San Andreas will end up by tomorrow, give-or-take. Mass destruction has long been the province of disaster-porn impresario Roland Emmerich, whose The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 made extinction-level events into multiplex fun. A terrifically nail-biting opener sets the scene for nearly two hours of literally jaw-dropping moments, as San Francisco and Los Angeles take a beating from Mother Nature. San Andreas director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) doesn’t aim so high, he’s merely out to destroy California when the San Andreas fault – the meeting point of two vast tectonic plates – begins to shift, causing massive earthquakes.

Better yet, Giamatti’s seismologist harbinger delivers his doom-ridden clichés with a straight face and absolute commitment – a tone also carried by Johnson even as he is established as the bicep-bulging hero who’s “Just doing my job”. This was clearly a winning combo of star+concept, as audiences flocked to see The Rock save his family (and only his family) from a massive California-destroying earthquake. Already fractured is the Gaines family, with father Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a veteran Los Angeles helicopter-rescue pilot, being divorced by wife Emma (Carla Gugino) in the wake of their losing a daughter to a boating accident. The subject is one which may sit a little close to home for New Zealand audiences, but while one isn’t gloating at the American devastation, it’s impossible not to feel awe.

Their other child, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), is off to university, hitching a ride to San Francisco with Emma’s new boyfriend, property developer mogul Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Usefully, Giamatti reminds us to “Drop, Cover, Hold” as he pulls a colleague away from the doorframe and under a table (thank goodness the movies can teach us something). Once seismologist Dr Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) has outlined the coming nightmare and witnessed the end of the first iconic structure, it’s up to Ray to pull his family back together while everyone else is either falling to their death or getting squashed.

The Warner Bros./New Line Cinema/Time Warner Entertainment release was produced by New Line, Village Roadshow, and Rat Pac at a cost of $100 million to produce. Daniel’s riches may be impressive when the ground is still, but in a disaster zone riven by powerful aftershocks you want the guy who’s built like his own tectonic plate. To wit, the film’s opening weekend will likely match or exceed the entire $47.6m domestic total for last year’s “found footage” tornado film Into the Storm, which was also a New Line release. Blake turns out to have inherited her father’s resourcefulness, and it’s a welcome reverse to have a young woman leading the way even as she sheds clothing layers to the ubiquitous singlet.

The Rock sold the living heck out of this thing, as he does for anything he is involved in, and the marketing sold what needed to be sold (The Rock being heroic, buildings a-tumbling-down, etc.) without fail. A pair of British brothers, including love interest Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), follow her, while the first-to-die supporting cast includes Kylie Minogue as Daniel’s officious sister.

The irony, of course, is that there was a time when a star-driven disaster movie as big as San Andreas would have been a preordained summer champion, but now it wins merely for going the distance. There’s the odd touch of mordant wit, such as a container ship topping a tsunami that characters are desperately trying to crest, but despite the ground constantly shaking San Andreas rarely moves you. Television actor Dustin Diamond exits the courtroom on Friday night after a 12-person jury convicted him of two misdemeanours stemming from a barroom fight.

The film was victimized by being explicitly criticized by Amy Pascal in documents stolen in the Sony leak last year, and the studio clearly lacked faith in the picture by hiding it from most critics until the last minute and then holding the reviews offline until hours before the film’s domestic debut. The jury’s verdict on Friday came just hours after the 38-year-old actor testified that he never intended to stab anyone in the fight last Christmas Day. It wasn’t just that the vast majority were negative, but rather they were brutal putdowns from critics who clearly considered themselves fans of the writer/director.

He had pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of recklessly endangering public safety, plus two misdemeanours – carrying a concealed weapon and disorderly conduct. Diamond’s testimony veered widely from the story presented by the prosecution’s nine witnesses, most of whom were cousins of 25-year-old Casey Smet, who suffered a minor stab wound during the altercation. While the prosecution’s witnesses described Diamond and his fiancee, Amanda Schutz, as aggressors who were uninterested in the apology of Smet’s girlfriend after she accidentally bumped into them at the bar, Diamond said the bumping was intentional and repeated. Also, 20th Century Fox is handling the overseas distribution, and they have a track record of turning lemons into lemonade abroad (go look up the foreign grosses for The Counselor).

The bad news is that this was a pure star power test for Bradley Cooper, as the film’s confusing and unfocused trailer (truth in advertising!) left little else to offer besides pretty movie stars in lovely places being charming. I disliked the clearly butchered-in-post-production film without outright hating it, and I have to wonder if the reviews were harsher because of how much we all love Cameron Crowe. Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol called the veracity of Diamond’s testimony into question, showing two videos taken by a Port Washington police officer’s body camera after Diamond was detained in December. Truth be told, Cameron Crowe isn’t necessarily a hit machine, as really only Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky qualify as blockbusters and We Bought A Zoo needed (and got) December legs to get to a robust $75m domestic back in 2011.

In a series of rapid-fire yes or no questions, Gerol demanded to know if Diamond had included any of the violent details from his testimony in his original statement to police. Anthony Cotton, Schutz’s lawyer, read the jury the definition of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and said the evidence supported the hypothesis that Schutz was the victim. The entire encounter took place in less than a minute, he said, and his client had simply reacted instinctively and reasonably to protect his fiancee.

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