Directed by: Brad Peyton
The Plot: The greater Los Angeles metropolitan area hasn’t seen an epidemic of Crack and Rock this devastating since the mid-1980’s. The minute a collegiate seismologist (Giamatti) develops a reliable prediction system for forecasting the time, strength, and locale of earthquakes the worst earthquake in the history of the planet hits his exact location. Once it begins most of the citizenry of the State of California have no other alternative than to leap screaming into great holes opening up in the earth. A helicopter rescue pilot (Johnson) decides that, seismic soirees be damned, what remains of his family will not share the tragic fate of his State. He sets off determined to find his ex-wife (Gugino) and daughter (Daddario) and keep them alive by any means necessary.
Even the Hollywood sign is shaking.
The Film: Just before the turn of the century it was customary for Hollywood to launch into the Summer movie season with an opening volley of big budget B-disaster movies. Saving their heavier box office punches for the hotly contested Memorial Day and 4th of July weekends the studios would kick off the season in May with barometerical terrors like Jan de Bont’s Twister, Mick Jackson’s Volcano, and Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact. Initially, no studio took the first two weeks of the Summer season seriously, which helped generate the rise of critical misanthropes like Roland Emmerich. (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) Wealthy, daring creatives who believed devoutly in the almighty bang and shunned budget constrictions and bad press.
Times were good. The market for schlock was thrumming.
Then Marvel Studios launched Spider Man on an opening May weekend in 2002 and changed the dynamic of early release Summer cinema forever. Suddenly popcorn entertainment in May became more austere. Less jovial. More cliquey. Brad Peyton’s San Andreas is a beast from another time. One that Warner Brothers has decided to resurrect into the Disaster Movie Holy Month of May as a rambunctious way to remind us all of the good old days when a movie could be wildly bad, but still worthwhile.
Here we find Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a bodybuilder who never met a script he had to memorize. A man forged in the fires of sports entertainment. Under his sandaled toes we have California, a state forged in the fires of political entertainment. Johnson plays Ray, (no surname for this character, though I’m assuming it’s probably “The Rock” Johnson) a rescue pilot of extraordinary build and skill. A father of one. Husband of none. Son of Tagaloa himself. Ray has 600 confirmed rescues on his resume, which means every time he pulled someone from certain death there was a state-sanctioned auditor waiting under his veiny wing with a stethoscope and a tally counter calculating wins. He’s the best of the best at what he does. Which is saving endangered species. Namely, California cougars and their cubs.
In San Andreas, only the hot survive. Ray the rescue pilot must ignore all other cries for help on his journey up the West Coast, only his ex-wife and daughter deserve the full might of his Over 600 Served! rescue prowess. The gawky, the underdeveloped, the poorly groomed, the older and overtly taxidermied, are inhaled by the ground itself. Eaten, as they are in the real California, by a land so beautiful and cruel, only those with the right jawline and muscular structure live to fight another day.
The easiest decision for a producer of this kind of entertainment to make was to look at Alexandra Daddario’s superb physique, and reach out to the nearest fledgling blockbusterer – in this instance, Newfoundlander Brad Peyton – and hiss into his ear in parseltongue: “We need to get this young lady’s rack into an earthquake movie. In 3D. Pronto.” Which is, admittedly, the best use of this new dimensional chicanery yet.
Of course, in San Andreas, entire cities are ripped apart, and famous landmarks are toppled like bowling pins, and the close shaves arrive in waves of cliches, and the real waves arrive at Himalayan proportions, (by far the best sequence in this) and Paul Giamatti commits to his lines and earns every dollar Warner Brothers piled at his feet to play the common diviner of extraordinary doom, and Carla Gugino still looks fantastic, even in the decline of her early 40’s, and the Rock remains unshaken even as his world crumbles around him, but the real reason that we should appreciate this shill of an earthquake thrill machine is its presentation, in full stereoscopic 3D, of Alexandra Daddario’s Olympic-sized chest.
There are those aching to see The Golden State beaten mercilessly with an ugly stick – and they shall indeed, as Brad Peyton grabs California by the San Fernando Valley and tears it all the way up to the Silicon Valley – and there are others who just want to have a good time at the movies and not worry about nonessentials like canon and complete sentences as they pertain to dialog, who may even need to be able to digest an entire film plot from under the shade of a few glasses of strong liquor, and yet there are still others who just want to watch a set of really nice knockers get knocked around by tectonic phenomena – for all these groups there is congress in San Andreas. A relatively harmless, dim-witted throwback to the big money days of turn of the century American Summer cinema.
The Verdict: Toward the end of San Andreas Archie Panjabi’s network news reporter says to Paul Giamatti’s stressed out stress scientist: “You did good.” To which he dolefully replies: “We all did good.” But I don’t know if we did. We did have fun though.