Film review: SAN ANDREAS, from ‘Built For Speed’

San Andreas is an old school disaster movie cliché fest. It’s basically a remake of the questionable 1974 film Earthquake just with better effects, less interesting characters and few nods to recent real life disasters such as 911, Hurricane Katrina and the Fukushima earthquake.

Set in California the film plays on the well-established fear that the San Andreas Fault, which runs 810 kilometres through the state, will one day experience a catastrophic earthquake. The film leaps into the action early with mini quakes setting off various dramas before the monster earthquake tears LA and San Francisco to pieces.  According to real life seismologists, however, the extent of the damage and many of the events depicted in San Andreas are, from a scientific point of view, pretty dubious.

An early sequence involving the tense rescue of a woman whose car hangs over a cliff introduces the film’s hero, elite chopper rescue pilot Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson). The film strangely starts to resemble Taken as we learn that decent guy Ray’s wife (Carla Gugino) has left him for an obscenely rich guy sleazebag (Ioan Gruffud) and taken their cute perky teenage daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) with her. Blake is then figuratively taken as the earthquake strikes leaving her stranded somewhere amid the ruins of LA.  Gaines, dutifully ignoring all the thousands of other injured people, uses his helicopter to scour the city for his daughter. This wouldn’t be a disaster movie without a distinguished older actor playing a prophet-of-doom scientist and here Paul Giamatti provides some acting cred as a Cal Tech earthquake specialist whose technology can predict deadly quakes (something seismologists assure us is not currently possible). 

While not quite at a Michael Bay level of silliness, San Andreas is often laughable. Even though he attempts to play the character of Ray seriously The Rock is still ridiculous.  He speaks exclusively in tough guy clichés and even does a Bond-style quip after punching out a redneck. He also seems to have a psychic ability to track down his daughter which must be a terrifying prospect for rebellious teen girls watching this film. There’s also an appallingly clichéd attempt to lumber Ray with the emotional baggage of a past tragedy for which the earthquake provides an opportunity to redeem himself.    What would an overblown American action film be without embarrassing displays of patriotism and audiences for this film will be on the floor laughing during a scene featuring a horribly gratuitous unfurling of an American flag.

We don’t see a film like this for credible storylines, well-rounded characters, interpersonal drama or witty dialogue; we see these movies for disaster porn spectacle and for the most part, this film delivers.  The (heavily cgi) scenes of mass-destruction featuring crumbling buildings, buckling roads, bridges twisting like a piece of liquorice, enormous (if scientifically dubious) tsunamis and the post-quake obliteration of LA is mostly convincing.  Consequently, San Andreas will satisfy most viewers’ lust for destruction but on any other cinematic level it’s pretty dire.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Action/ disaster/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Brad Peyton.

Release date: 28th May 2015.

Running time: 114 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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