“Saturday Night Live” calls Dwayne Johnson “Franchise Viagra.” He’s better than that. Go ahead and etch this next statement in stone: “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson makes everything better.” It has become a nearly indisputable truth that you can take to the bank. Yes, he has had his fair share of terrible movies, but, overall, the man can sell sand to an Egyptian and put butts in movie theater seats. People are always going to make fun of him for “The Tooth Fairy” and his bit role in “Be Cool.” The films are rarely his fault. Dwayne is, arguably, never not the most entertaining thing on screen at any given moment. Greater than just the gym time to maintain his massive physique at the ripe age of 43 (yes, 43!), Johnson is always 100% invested in everything he does and that effort bears fruit. His charisma is greater than anything Arnold Schwarzenegger did in his hey-day. He can make terrible movies OK, OK movies good, and good movies great.
“San Andreas” is one of those terrible-to-OK movies that Dwayne Johnson makes either passable or good solely through his presence, heroics, and charisma alone. We’re a long way from great here, but “San Andreas” counts as mind-numbing fun that’s fit for the summer season. The errors, implausibilities, and eye rolls are as high as the city-leveling casualty rate, but Warner Bros. and company weren’t aiming very high. “San Andreas” opens everywhere today, May 29, across the Chicagoland area movie theaters and venues.
Johnson plays a former Afghanistan war veteran Chief Ray Gaines. He’s been a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department for several years, leading a team of fellow (yet nameless) war buddies. From the improbable opening scene rescue of a precariously hanging car in a rocky chasm caused by a texting Millennial and a little rumble of an earthquake tremor, we can see both the level of implausibility that’s coming and the dripping ice-cold level of resolve of Gaines that will put on display all film. Johnson gets a sad backstory where he’s lost one daughter in an accident and the other, Blake, played by an impossibly over-hot Alexandra Daddario (who’s only 14 years younger than Dwayne) is off to college. This occurs right when his separated wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is serving him divorce papers and moving in with her loaded new architect boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), and it’s happening right when the big earthquakes hit. After the Hoover Dam and L.A. are decimated, Emma needs rescuing in Los Angeles and Blake needs saving in San Francisco which launches our hero into action by land, sea, and air.
“San Andreas” is a cinematic arcade game and all of the tokens are here. The film is awarded its token single allowable F-word that fits within the PG-13 rating that’s delivered with crowd-pleasing gusto. We get the token crappy “new man” foil with Ioan Gruffudd. From his first meeting, we clearly know he can’t hold a candle to Emma’s ex and acts completely opposite in character traits for opposite’s sake. His token karma-fueled comeuppance is right on schedule for later in the show, as are the token touching reunion moments we’ve seen before in other disaster movies. Emma is your token hot MILF love interest and Blake is your token tomboy savvy daughter who knows all of her dad’s rescue tricks, naturally. They both act to remind Ray of the token family tragedy that he didn’t properly move on from but can now use as motivation for this new family tragedy. A token foreigner boyfriend candidate (newcomer Hugo Johnstone-Burt) for Blake and cute little brother sidekick (Art Parkinson) are thrown in for international flavor because Gaines needs to unselfishly save more people than just his lover and offspring.
The shiniest token is the prerequisite “man of science” Lawrence, played by Oscar nominee and paycheck casher Paul Giamatti. He is the Cal Tech seismologist who can crack the case of predicting earthquakes before they happen, but remains the token smartest and most important character the other trivial characters don’t take seriously until things get serious. Separate in storyline from The Rock punching natural disasters, Giamatti serves his adequate purpose as the explainer of all necessary things, which allows Johnson to stick to the heroics and growled token one-liners. Once again, Dwayne Johnson makes it all more fun and better. He gives you the right hero to root for. Without him, this would be a far more terrible movie.
Heaven forbid The Rock explain himself or science! We get to blame the writer instead. It should be of little shock that former “Lost” showrunner Carlton Cuse was the complicit screenwriter of this beautiful mess. The overwrought melodrama and “Lost”-ish last-minute saves and surprises match the excessive number of aforementioned tokens and cliche plot devices. Along the same lines, we weren’t going to expect much from director Brad Peyton, whose vitae is lined with the likes of “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” The 37-year-old Peyton clearly grew up on way too many Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer films because “San Andreas” lays the cloying patriotic visuals and ear-splitting Andrew Lockington musical score on thick. That’s the final token of ‘Merica we were all waiting to hear to seal the gaudy approval on “San Andreas.”
Speaking of science, writer Vince Mancini of FilmDrunk, the off-shoot movie page of the tech culture website Uproxx, shared a hilarious thread of outstanding tweets from actual United States Geological Survey (USGS) seismologist Dr. Lucy Crane that laid the smack down on the numerous scientific inaccuracies in “San Andreas” while holding back a smile of enjoyment. It’s a great must-read to match seeing this movie. Most of us are smart enough not to take a movie like “San Andreas” seriously. That said, you know, in almost Michael Bay-follower fashion, there’s going to be a whole slice of the audience that takes this film to be the truest and most awesome depiction of earthquakes this side of “2012.” Leave the science at the door and just enjoy the movie. If Dr. Crane can do it, so can you.
Lesson #1: Don’t take The Rock’s woman— You don’t move in with The Rock’s ex-wife! He will prove himself and win her back. Your foil character traits of cowardice will make you look punny in comparison to him. You will earn your rightful defeat. I don’t even want to meet the divorce lawyers that served him papers.
Lesson #2: Don’t mess with The Rock’s daughter— You don’t mess with the token tomboy who knows her father’s skills! Blake carries The Rock’s chromosomes of heroics and she can take care of herself and show up all of the boys. Don’t mess with her! She’s got this!
Lesson #3: Don’t point a gun at The Rock– There’s that old joke about bringing a knife to a gunfight. Some lazy carjacker thinks a gun can trump the The Rock. Well, rock beats gun. Boo-yah! End of fight!
Lesson #4: Don’t try to be more intense than The Rock— You will not stare The Rock down. You will not be mentally or physically stronger than him, Mother Nature! You will not win a battle of wills, balls, or even hopscotch against this man. He will school you and be victorious.
Lesson #5: Don’t put stuff in The Rock’s way— Dammit Mother Nature! Are you not getting the picture?! You can’t put earthquakes or tsunamis in The Rock’s way. He can beat you and your disasters. He will climb over mountains, skyscrapers, and the bodies of millions to get his wife and daughter. Go ahead and try to strike him with lightning! Go ahead. See what happens!
Lesson #6: Don’t run out of gas on The Rock– Stupid helicopters, trucks, boats, and planes! The Rock isn’t done with you until he says he is done with you. Your technological limits will not exceed his. Your crash landings will not harm him. He doesn’t need fuel. He burns 24/7 with the power of thundering Brahma Bulls and electricity of the people.
Lesson #7: Don’t question The Rock’s decisions or choices– If The Rock wants to take your stuff, he will take it. If The Rock wants to give you something, you take it, especially if it’s advice. If The Rock tells you where you are safe, you better listen or die. If The Rock wants you to not die, you will do so and live a thousand years. If The Rock wants to jump out of a plane, you grab on and hold on for the ride. If The Rock wants to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco during the afternoon where the entire Pacific Coast is falling apart, nothing will stand in his way. Don’t question The Rock’s decisions. He’s a do-er and he does it better than you.
Lesson #8: Don’t believe a single shred of science from this movie— Lastly, just as Dr. Crane was so kind to provide background on, please don’t believe a single shred of so-called “science” from this movie. 10% of what you are watching is theoretically possible, yet highly unlikely. The other 90% is pure Hollywood invention. Outside of fatherly and husbandly heroics and how cool Dwayne Johnson is, you will and should learn nothing of consequence from this movie. Keep it that way.