San Andreas Review

(1.5 STARS)

One should go into a movie like San Andreas assuming he or she will have a good time. There is no other reason for this movie to exist. It’s not an acting showcase. It isn’t saying anything unique about family dynamics. And for the love of God, it offers nothing in terms of seismological or environmental commentary.

So why no sense of humor? With Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson out in front, San Andreas should be oozing tongue-in-cheek charisma, yet it’s played so straight. When buildings aren’t collapsing around our rote characters, the film is a straight-up bore. It moves quickly, but sit too close to a window, and you’ll find the wind, a bird, or traffic are far more engaging watches than director Brad Peyton’s disaster of a disaster movie.

Johnson plays Raymond Gaines, a rescue pilot in California, who is still reeling from a years-past personal tragedy. The aftermath of this event left him estranged from his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), though he maintains a closer relationship with their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario).

Emma’s rich new boyfriend, the architect Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), will be accompanying Blake to college in Seattle — after a quick stop in San Francisco — with Ray suddenly called to deal with a horrible earthquake that took out the Hoover Dam. During their stop, Blake makes the acquaintance of a charming but slightly bashful aspiring architect from Britain, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), and his younger brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson).

That’s when the events of the Hoover Dam make their way along the San Andreas fault line and up the coast of California. Earthquake after earthquake devastates various cities, climaxing in a seismic event that levels San Francisco. Daniel cowardly fends for himself, while Blake, Ben, and Ollie attempt to find safety on higher ground until her father can make his way to the city in his chopper, following a quick stop to rescue Blake’s mother.

The film’s various set pieces are its highlights, though none feels transcendent or even particularly memorable in the way those in Independence Day, Armageddon, or even World War Z do. A tidal wave that takes out the Golden Gate Bridge via a giant container ship is the closest San Andreas comes to such a moment, but more memorable are its goofs — like the windows that trap characters in precarious situations despite the fact that ever other window in the entire city has shattered (along with most buildings). There are so many ways to create destruction- and mayhem-related suspense in a motion picture like this, but San Andreas seems to go out of its way to seek out the dumbest way to do this.

All of this would have been forgiveable if the film played to its lead actor’s strengths. Certainly, The Rock is a physically imposing movie star, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak. Of course, he’s also ridiculously funny, yet the San Andreas screenplay — at least as it appears in the finished product — doesn’t have a single joke on the page (at least not any intentional ones).

The funniest stuff in San Andreas is meta — like Daddario, a 30-year-old woman, playing a young girl off to college for the first time. Or the fact that a man just 12 years the actress’ senior is playing her father in a major motion picture. It all speaks to a lowest-common-denominator film — something meant to check various boxes that represent general public acceptance and something that speaks to a movie studio’s utter lack of confidence in the intelligence of its audience.

In other words, Warner Bros. thinks we’re all stupid. And maybe I am for bothering with this nonsense, but this formula has worked before, and it will again. I’ll be waiting excitedly for when it does.

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