It looks like this is the big one – earthquake that is. You know, the massive ‘mother of all earthquakes’ that leaves epic-scaled devastation which is prime fodder for a summer popcorn audiences. And trust me, “San Andreas” has the summer popcorn movie cred. It is loud, often silly, filled to the rim with corny lines and CGI destruction, and it stars The Rock. Yet at the same time it also manages to entertain – an accomplishment that many summer blockbusters can’t claim.
Disaster movies have always managed to find an audience and if you look at the catalog of film history you’ll see that almost every disaster imaginable is represented. Earthquakes are no different. Quake disaster picks have been around for a while as evident by the great Clark Gable film “San Francisco” from 1936 and Charlton Heston’s “Earthquake” from 1974. “San Andreas” certainly doesn’t fall into the same category of those films in terms of quality, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I had fun with it.
The movie starts in typical fashion – with an introduction to the players. Dwayne Johnson plays Ray, A helicopter rescue pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department. He is in the middle of a divorce with Emma (Carla Gugino) who has moved in with her wealthy real estate broker boyfriend (Ioan Gruffud). Their daughter Blake (Alexandria Daddario) is seemingly caught in middle and maintains a strong relationship with her father. Meanwhile seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and his team are studying small tremors in hopes of perfecting their earthquake prediction theories. And we are also introduced to a young engineer named Ben (Hugo Johnston-Burt) who has eyes for Blake and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson).
I don’t need to tell you but an earthquake hits and the epicenter is near the Hoover Dam. But little does everyone know that it is simply a precursor to a bigger quake – one unlike any we’ve seen before (how’s that for dramatic effect). It just so happens that when ‘the big one’ hits the central family is separated and Ray sets out to save his estranged wife and daughter. The story bounces back and forth between each group of characters as they navigate an assortment of perils and close calls.
The city of San Francisco is the computer generated ground zero of “San Andreas” and the special effects crew leaves no street undamaged and no landmark unscathed. This reveals some of the film’s strengths and its weaknesses. Visually the film shines. Watching this there is no question that modern special effects are capable of capturing almost anything. Even the film’s more ridiculous and absurd sequences were impressive due to the spectacular visuals. On the other hand the barrage of CGI destruction is relentless to the point of becoming almost numbing. And there are times when you question whether the filmmakers are even considering the catastrophic death toll resulting from their visual artistry.
But my biggest mixed reaction centers around the characters. Unquestionably the movie features several throwaway characters and some prototypical cookie-cutter characters that you’ve seen in a hundred other movies. I won’t spoil who is who, but the sheer lack of imagination in some of the character development is ridiculous. On the more surprising side, I actually found myself liking the family dynamic as cliché as it was. Even amid the sometimes lame dialogue and laughably cheesy lines I liked the three main characters. And the performances were generally good. They are nothing that you will remember but they’re able to weather the occasional hackneyed writing that can sometimes leave you shaking your head. It’s a pretty solid cast some of whom feel a bit wasted.
When watching movies like “San Andreas” I feel you sometimes need to have a discernment switch you can flip off in order to enjoy the movie. It’s that critical switch that when flipped on keeps us from seeing past a film’s negatives so that we enjoy the positives. Many summer blockbusters stink regardless of whether the switch is flipped on or off. But I found “San Andreas” to be entertaining in its own cheesy, summer blockbustery way. The predictability is undeniable. The corny lines are too many to count. The CGI devastation and last second rescues are aplenty. But at the same time “San Andreas” kept me engaged thanks to its visuals, its cast, and even the occasional unintended humor which I count as part of its charm. I can see where some may pile on or dismiss “San Andreas”, but for me it was good throw-away summer fun.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS