San Andreas could be one of the easiest films to pitch in a review, as your predisposition towards it can be gauged by two simple questions: 1) Are you a fan of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson? 2) Do you love effects driven disaster movies that pit character archetypes against massive peril? If the answer is yes to both, then please proceed in an orderly fashion to your nearest cinema, purchase snacks of choice and let the loud and destructive spectacle entertain you.
After last year saw Into The Storm bring back some Twister style antics to the big screen, so San Andreas plays out like a combination of 1974’s Earthquake and the Dennis Quaid’s fight against a slight chill in The Day After Tomorrow (minus the ropey CGI wolves). The central plot follows the simple quest for Johnson’s rescue pilot to retrieve his daughter and estranged wife from the tectonic terror, with occasional cutaways to Paul Giamatti’s earthquake expert who keeps us informed of exactly how bad things are about to get (he predicted this would happen, but like all B-movie scientists no one would listen).
As with all the movies mentioned above, alongside other notables such as Dante’s Peak and Volcano, the majority of the enjoyment comes from ticking off the predictable character moments, such as the inevitable cowardly turn from a man standing in the way of the hero’s redemption, or young love flourishing among the rubble while all hell breaks loose. On that front San Andreas certainly delivers.
The film also succeeds in maintaining the pretty much non-stop action throughout the fairly lengthy 114 minute runtime, which I was sure would drag at various points. There are only minutes given over to plot and character development before some bigger and more explosive challenge presents itself. In an age where audiences are desensitised to CG effects, San Andreas is still able to rack up some thrills and quality visuals, such as a race against an ever sinking building, the ripple effect of the quake on such a vastly populated area and a simple, but effective parachute drop that gives a more tranquil view of the unfolding destruction.
Of course at the heart of a film like San Andreas you need a strong hero to root for, and they don’t come much stronger than The former Rock. Dwayne Johnson’s effortless charisma, strength and smile usually account for a large part of his casting and for good reason, so it’s an interesting choice to make less of his physicality and focus more on his performance and emotionally frail side in San Andreas.
It’s an experiment that mostly works, but you can’t shake the feeling that he could still quite easily hold up a collapsing building on his mighty shoulders, or smash through any obstacle in his way – his performance is every bit the grounded everyman (he only knocks out one person with a comedic punchline), but it makes you yearn for a little more over the top antics that a film that pits ‘The Rock vs. Earthquake’ has the potential to deliver.
In fact it’s the lack of more outlandish content that holds back San Andreas from rising above its status as a traditional disaster flick – both Volcano and Dante’s Peak kept a straight face while melting people from the feet upwards, or there was Twister’s infamous cow. It’s not as though Andreas lacks plenty of opportunity, especially as it’s directed by the same man (Brad Peyton) that gave us Sir Michael Caine riding a giant insect in Journey 2 The Mysterious Island. For example, Kylie Minogue pops up for all of two minutes for no good reason, only to vanish through a door with no building on the other side, but that particular sight isn’t shown taken advantage of as you assume it would be and nor is the pay-off punishment for one character especially satisfying after a lengthy build up.
Most importantly though, San Andreas contains approximately no scenes of Steve Buscemi riding a giant nuke in space, so be warned.
There are a handful of good comedic moments and the always excellent Carla Gugino owns the movie’s standout line, but the need to focus on the heartfelt family dramatics weighs down a film that could have much more entertaining with a tongue pushed more firmly into its cheek, as is often the way in films like San Andreas. Still, the solid cast elevate the more mundane material and utterly sell the fear needed to draw you in to their plight, especially the horror of being crushed and drowned which always elevates the heart rate.
San Andreas is exactly the movie you’d expect, deserving affection for providing some good, old fashioned entertainment and thrills, surrounded by some immersive and spectacular 3D effects, which races from start to finish with barely a moments’ pause, it just can’t quite take the traditional confines of the genre to a new level and ironically feels a little safe a result.
San Andreas is in UK cinemas now
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