Over the course of San Andreas, the latest disaster movie from director Brad Peyton – previous disasters include Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore – I went from relishing in the film’s stupid fun, to gradually grimacing at the film’s plain old stupidity.
I have a soft spot for the sub-genre and I’ve been forgiving of the most ludicrous, yet spectacular disaster movies that have graced our cinema screens over the past few years – including last year’s Into The Storm.
By design, I should have loved San Andreas – the usual tropes of a disaster film are all here and accounted for. The film focuses on multiple characters, dotted in different locations, who have to survive some of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded. You have the rich coward, the smart scientists, and, at the centre of the story, a father who must travel a huge distance to save his teenage daughter.
These generic touchstones – along with the huge, spectacular imagery of buildings toppling onto eachother like dominos – should have been, in theory, a sturdy foundation on which to construct a solid movie – but cracks in the film’s narrative begin to show around about the half way mark.
Things start off well, with an opening sequence that introduces us to the lead hero, Ray – played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot, as he attempts to save somebody from a car that balances precariously on a cliff-side. It’s a fun and inventive scene, that is surprisingly personal when compared to the following mass destruction that occurs.
We’re never really subjected to the horrific deaths of the many though, but instead see the earthquake through the eyes of the small few. When we do get to see the effect that the disaster has on other people, San Andreas is quite impactful – there’s a moment where an elderly couple embrace as a tsunami barrels toward them, that is fleetingly heartbreaking – but the characters that the film does focus on are far too dull and (or) irritating.
The main emotional thread that run through the film, which has Ray and his estranged wife reunite and reconnect after a bereavement – again, a familiar trait within the disaster movie – is so poorly written and painfully boring that, like one of the many buildings in the movie, it pulls San Andreas crashing down from its dizzying heights of ridiculous but fun, b-movie glory, to nothing more than a pile of rubble.
After the initial chaos of the first earthquake, it’s as if the writing team behind San Andreas – three writers in total, one of which is the usually excellent Carlton Cuse – were stumped as to where to take the story next. So what it ends up turning into is Planes, Trains & Automobiles but without the humour or heartfelt emotion, as Ray and his wife Emma, travel across country in a helicopter, car, plane and boat, to go and find their daughter.
The reasons behind them having to switch vehicles all the time aren’t even that eventful, and each time they do change their mode of transport, we have to go through some kind of mawkish monologue, badly performed by Johnson – a great entertainer, but terrible actor – as he explains just why he pushed his wife away.
Whilst this is all going on, the spectacle of San Andreas starts to feel very repetitive as the imagery of buildings crashing into each other becomes very boring, very fast. As if the writers were aware of this, they decide that in the climax, they’ll throw in a tsunami for good measure.
Compared to Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow – flawed, but enjoyable – the imagery in San Andreas is considerably lackluster; the dialouge is sub-standard; the performances are cringe worthy; and by the time the film gets to its schmalzy ending, which has this misplaced “God Bless America” message – complete with the American flag blowing in the wind – I’d forgotten all about the fun stuff at the beginning.
It’s a shame, because San Andreas had so much potential to be a great time at the cinema. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting anything groundbreaking, but I was expecting some silly popcorn fodder. There’s some fun to be had with the film, but as a whole, it has far too many faults to make it all worthwhile.
Image credit to http://www.impwards.com