In many ways San Andreas is everything I abhor in so many modern blockbusters; lazy writing rasing all the old tropes and cliches with predictable plotting and cynical insults to audience intelligence. On the other hand, it does everything it says on the tin, as it were. It is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything different. I knew going in that it was hardly going to be high art and if you’re in the mood for a high-octane disaster movie you’ll be in for a treat.
Positives? Well, the effects guys pulled out all the stops on this one. There are jarring exceptions that sneak in no doubt due to the sheer amount of effects shots in the film (alarmingly for the film the first effects shots are the worst which creates an initial sense of cheesiness), but on the whole the scenes of destruction are well staged and convincing. You certainly get plenty bang for your buck, whether it be a rental or a purchase or (originally) cinema ticket. The casting is fine (Kylie Minogue though is so out of left-field its just utterly bizarre) and the acting is fairly good, though you suspect that all the actors know the effects are the real draw so they don’t bother breaking much of a sweat trying to make much of the dialogue they are given. Alexandra Daddario as Dwayne Johnson’s daughter is probably the exception here and the best of the bunch- yes she is extraordinary eye candy but she seems the only one who thinks she’s in a better movie and makes an effort. She really does shine in this and it ideally should lead to some leading roles in better films (if she somehow never turns up in some Marvel film in a headlining role it’d be something of a crime). Daddario’s clear efforts here are opposed to the apparently-ageless Carla Gugino and the great Paul Giamatti who both know full well they are slumming in a popcorn pot-boiler with dialogue clearly beneath them.
Negatives? Well I could go on awhile but here’s my chief gripe. What annoys me is just this; why is a huge man-mountain like Dwayne Johnson -who does very well in the part given him, to be fair- always the leading man/hero of this kind of film? I think the film would be much more interesting and exciting if it was the balding/middle-aged/overweight Paul Giamatti playing the hero trying to survive the disaster and rescue his daughter. You know, put an ordinary guy in peril and see him making his way through it. It’d be so much more interesting. Irwin Allen’s 1970s disaster movies are often remarked upon these days as being formulaic and cheesy but at least their leading men are fairly ordinary-looking leading men. Dwayne Johnson here is some kind of Masculine Ideal, a helicopter rescue pilot who can hotwire cars and parachute out of planes and race a boat up a tidal wave while dodging falling freight containers… its just preposterous stuff. Its fantasy casting/writing and very irritating Of course, I well appreciate the fact that no-one is going to spend $110 million on an action blockbuster starring Paul Giamatti as the leading hero. Its been like that for years, its why the original Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and not Richard Dreyfuss or James Woods. But wouldn’t they all be much more interesting films? As it is we are stuck with highly unlikely plots with highly unlikely people in them.
The key family dynamic is the best thing in the film but even that is pure formulaic stuff. Following the death of one of their daughters, Johnson and Cugino have split up and Cugino now has another fella who just happens to be some kind of billionaire who travels in private jets/limos and builds skyscrapers for a living. Loving dad Johnson dotes on his remaining daughter Daddario while still clearly having feelings for his wife who has moved on to her billionaire and is starting divorce proceedings. Of course the disaster strikes and Johnson has to save the day. But just look at those leads- Johnson looks like some kind of man mountain, Cugino is a statuesque icon of age-defying motherhood and their daughter Daddario is just breathtakingly hot. Johnson drives a truck all shiny-chrome and gleaming paintwork fresh off an assembly line, Cugino’s new bloke lives in a millionaire palace with swimming pool and servants. The whole thing is utterly divorced from the real world, or at least the world I’m living in. Its just dumb and lazy and generic nonsense.
I realise we shouldn’t really expect anything more from these kinds of films and San Andreas is just what it was intended to be, but then again, maybe we should be expecting more from these films. This shouldn’t be what these films aspire to be, just dumb trash with beautiful people in extraordinarily stupid situations (the airport is out of action, so lets jump out of this plane and parachute down into that baseball stadium). As these films get ever more expensive to produce and studios become ever more conservative about avoiding risk etc, then these films are just going to get louder and dumber. Where will we end up in ten years or twenty years? I shudder to think.