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Monday, June 8, 2015

San Andreas 2015 * * Stars

San AndreasDirector: Brad Peyton
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario

Man I love disaster flicks. It all started when The Towering Inferno invaded my TV screen back in the early 80's. Since then, I've been hooked, waiting for the next helping of inflated storylines, large casts, and devastating, mitigated destruction. "When the Big One Finally Hits L.A.", "THE ONLY WAY OUT IS IN", "HELL, UPSIDE DOWN", "THE COAST IS TOAST", hey I'm game. Enter San Andreas, 2015's obliterating of California's vast coastline. Quakes occur on a dime in this flick, cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are reduced to mere debris, and oh yeah, there's also a big ol' tsunami thrown in to polish everything off. So let's just skip all the pleasantries and say that what we have here, is clear-cut disaster porn? Or better yet, clear-cut, disaster porn addiction. Granted, this isn't your typical special effects eye candy, it's the whole candy store. And yes, San Andreas is a popcorn flick. There's a pound of butter, a pound of seasoned salt, and a tub the size of Texas to put it all in. Can you smell what The Rock is cooking? Yeah I think I can and sadly, it amounts to just middling results.

Anyway, if you've seen Earthquake (1974), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), or Independence Day (1996), well get ready to experience more of the same here. The only difference is that "Andreas" takes residue from these films and ups the ante to almost unrealistic proportions. I mean, director Brad Peyton doesn't want to draw you into his presented caricatures or situations. He just needs twenty, nutrition-free minutes of buildup time to pummel your fragile psyche into moviegoing submission. We have the Golden Gate bridge reduced to dusty rubble, we have the Hoover dam blown to smithereens, and we get to see AT&T Park look like it needs about five makeovers. These effects seem like they're literally just for show and not conducive to pushing the story along. Hmm, did Michael Bay wander on set (out of boredom) and give out some pro bono consultation? Maybe.

Oh I almost forgot, San Andreas could qualify as the feel-good disaster film of this year. That's if you revel in seeing all the main characters live and the one jerk character die (every extra or bit part is expendable and in the blink of an eye, they too bite the proverbial dust). Was I blown away by its visual splendor and moderated moments of grated tension? Yeah somewhat. Did I roll my eyes at its impracticality, shake my head in disbelief over how the main players escape death, identity all the green screen confetti, and then say to myself, "it's only a movie"? Yup.

With a screenplay by Carlton Cuse (he wrote 39 episodes of the TV series, Lost), a running time of 114 minutes (90% of said running time is annihilation while the other 10% is daft, character development), and a bloodless way of taking out its hapless (or should I say, cardboard) victims, San Andreas chronicles helicopter-rescue pilot, Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson). He's about to be divorced from his wife (Emma played by Carla Gugino) and said wife is about to move in with her new jagoff boyfriend (real estate developer Daniel Riddick who is played by Ioan Gruffudd). Ray is also in the process of planning a trip to San Francisco. He wants to see his college-bound daughter off (Blake played by Alexandra Daddario). When Daniel ends up taking Blake to school instead, Raymond gets back to the job of rescuing people and flexing his ripped biceps. It's only when a series of badass earthquakes caused by the San Andreas fault, gives him the chance to be united with his estranged wife and cutesy daughter once again. Raybird saves a couple of other denizens in danger (or peril) as the proceedings barrel along. But his main focus here is to just take care of his own doting family. Every other resident in Cali is an afterthought waiting for the slaughter.

Johnson's character for what it's worth, is pretty much like Dennis Quaid's Jack Hall from The Day After Tomorrow (mentioned earlier). The only difference is that Johnson looks so big he could swallow little Dennis whole. I'll say it once and I'll say it again: A movie screen is too small of a catacomb to fit The Rock in. The tickets to the gun show can only be bought in bulk.

Now the quality of acting via disaster vehicles has never been characterized as phenomenal. I mean there have been a couple of Academy Award nominations here and there but for the most part, it's just more about the plethora of big name stars faceted to wet your whistle. In San Andreas however, you don't really get that. The Steve McQueens and Paul Newmans are long gone. There's no Charlton Heston, no Ava Gardner, no Gene Hackman, and no Ernest Borgnine. Robert Wagner isn't there to sort of guide you through the fire and you can't hitch a motorcycle ride with Mr. Richard Roundtree. No all we have is a bunch of unknown actors, Paul Giamatti, and you know who. Speaking of Giamatti, well he gives the film's best performance. He plays seismologist Lawrence Hayes and his job is to shift from moment to moment all the while delivering TV news of the doom and gloom variety. His role in the film however, is somewhat thankless. He's reduced to kind of a side note and comes off more like a curator or narrator. When San Andreas concludes, you don't find out what happens to him or his other scientific cohorts. Que sera sera.

That leaves all the heavy lifting (no pun intended) to Dwayne Johnson. On screen his Ray is likable. He's the big, giant teddy bear you root for. Johnson in a way, infuses him with some palatable screen presence. However, his dialogue delivery like in many of his other movies, still seems as wooden as ever here. I mean, the only time I've notice Johnson possess any acting chomps is when he did the whole concerned father thing in 2013's Snitch. When certain scenes cause for him to show emotion in "Andreas", well he's the movie equivalent of Bill Belichick at a New England Patriots press conference. I can just see Brad Peyton (on set) yelling, "show some tears Rocko! Break something Rocko! Lift an eyebrow Rocko! Darn it!"

In conclusion, San Andreas lacks a certain epicness or a heighten sentiment that should accompany something so Homeric in scale. It's almost on par with being bloated humdrum and feels recycled from other, better disaster fare. However, if you have two hours to kill and enjoy seeing buildings blown to bits (with CGI up the yin yang), well it's harmless. So to end this review I'll give "Andreas" an alternative, working title. How about Armageddon On The Day After Tomorrow Causing An Earthquake With A Deep Impact. Man that was a mouthful.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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