Whenever a disaster movie comes out there is an almost unwritten law that you have to see it to see how bad it is. That is why I went to see Dwayne Johnson’s new disaster epic San Andreas.
The real problem with making a movie about a disaster is that it doesn’t matter who is in it, the actors are not the main characters. The wanton destruction is the character of the movie. The second problem with making a disaster film is that it’s hard to give the main character a personality. An earthquake is destructive but it has no depth. So you have to rely on the tertiary characters to provide that for you. The third problem is that the tertiary characters are rarely developed enough to be interesting. The same is true here.
Dwayne Johnson plays chief Ray Gaines, the chief of the Los Angeles Search and Rescue division of the fire department. We first see him rescuing a girl who’s car has been hit by an avalanche and forced her off a cliff. He and his team are accompanied by a team of reporters during the rescue by helicopter. This is s tense scene and should have been a precursor for me to realize how the action would be framed for the entirety of the movie. Tense moments followed by calm moments followed by even more tense moments.
After that scene is concluded he gets home and calls his daughter( Blake played by Alexandra Daddario) whom he wants to go to dinner with. She’s laying in the sun in a bikini. The camera gives us a number of shots throughout the movie where cleavage is “accidentally” shown. But Alexandra Daddario is a pretty attractive woman and that’s a selling point to the movie. She refuses the meal and while she’s talking to her dad, Chief Gaines is staring at divorce papers. He says he will see her the following day as he takes her back to school.
Between the scenes with “The Rock” we are treated to scenes with Paul Giamatti who plays a scientist that is also a teacher of seismology. He is sitting in his office when his assistant says that there have been a series of 2.0 earthquakes at the Hoover Dam and if they got there in time they may be able to test a theory they are working on to predict earthquakes by measuring the size of the magnetic pulses that follow each tremor. As they are measuring the pulses a 7.0 earthquake hits and kills the professor’s assistant as the assistant is trying save a young girl. The young girl is saved.
As the professor returns to his office a reporter approaches him to do an interview about the quake( the same reporter). As they are talking his other lab assistants are measuring the magnetic pulses and determine that the quake has the potential to activate the San Andreas fault line
Cut back to Dwayne who is getting ready to pick up his daughter to take to school when he gets a text from work saying he needs to do rescue for the Hoover dam area. He goes to his estranged wife’s boyfriend’s house to say goodbye to his daughter. The boyfriend is played by the same actor who played Mr. Fantastic in the terribly made Fantastic Four movies. While he’s there he learns that his estranged wife has planned on moving in with her boyfriend and they decide that the boyfriend should take Blake to school.
Cut to a scene where boyfriend is flying Blake to school where he has a heart to heart with her saying that he would never try to take the place of her dad. She asks him why he never had kids and he says “oh I do” and he opens a brochure revealing the building he’s creating. He asks if she wants to see it. We also learn that Blake’s mom( played by Carla Gugino) is scheduled to have lunch with boyfriend’s sister played by Kylie Minogue. While she is being grilled Dwayne calls his wife and that’s when the danger hits and the earthquake has begun. Dwayne has to find his wife
Meanwhile Blake is in her mom’s boyfriend’s building lobby when she meets Ben Taylor who is nervously waiting for a job interview. Ben’s brother sits down next to them and starts hitting on Blake for her brother. While Ben goes on the interview Blake talks to the younger brother and ends up giving her phone number to the kid to give to Ben. As she gets up she is approached by boyfriend again and that’s when the earthquake hits. Boyfriend, being the genius that he is, hurries to the parking garage where they get into car and are driving to escape when the floor of the garage collapses and traps Blake in the car. Boyfriend gets free and runs back into the building and seeks help. Ben, who overhears that a girl is trapped in the garage goes to find bake while boyfriend deserts them both.
Blake makes a call to her dad telling him she’s trapped but before she can say which garage she’s in her cell reception cuts out. Ben and her Brother rescue Blake but only right before the car is crushed by the falling structure.
Blake figures out that the only way to contact her dad is to find a land line because her cell service is out. She calls her dad and her dad tells her to get to higher ground so he can find her. He tells her to go to where her family vacationed when they vacationed in San Francisco. Oh, by the way mom was rescued but not without peril.
This is where we learn about why Chief Gaines is getting a divorce. His other daughter died on a whitewater rafting trip and he wasn’t able to save her. His guilt has put a strain on his marriage.
The rest of the movie focuses on finding Blake and Blake trying to be found
There are a few moments in the movie where the writing was really, really good. There are a few moments of dialogue that were very well written but not enough.
There are a few subtle moments in the special effects that are very clever and in those moments I was impressed. The main issue that I had with the movie was that the movies disaster scenes are manipulative. They are spaced between scenes where the characters seem to be making progress in getting passed the disasters when they hit again. This pattern happens so often that I found myself getting angry at the movie for the teeter totter of emotions portrayed in the story.
The CGI effects in the movie are fantastic and I think I was only unimpressed once. That may be the only thing in the movie worth viewing. The movie was better than it should have been but still pretty bad. Grade: C-