Movie review: ‘San Andreas’
Directed By Brad Peyton
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Archie Panjabi
Rated PG-13, Action, 114 minutes
The PG-13 rated film “San Andreas” aims to be a thrilling roller coaster ride eliciting viewers’ “oohs” and “ahs” while making us secure in the knowledge that no one we care about will suffer serious injury.
Dwayne Johnson and his immensely broad chest portray Los Angeles-based helicopter rescue pilot Ray, whose wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has served him with divorce papers and whose daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is leaving home to attend college in San Francisco.
Hoping to remain close to his daughter, Ray plans to drive her to school and spend the weekend with her in San Francisco. However, the plan is abandoned after a mammoth earthquake first destroys the Hoover Dam and then rocks Southern California.
Ray’s efforts to reunite his family are weak attempts to bring “heart” to this film, but what is more successful are the exciting special effects that depict buildings coming apart at the seams or slowly imploding. As the earthquake rumbles toward San Francisco, we’re treated to a variety of destructive sights witnessed by Ray and his wife as they fly across California in an effort to rescue their daughter.
In a separate story line, Paul Giamatti plays a Caltech seismologist who directs his students to hack into a live news feed so he can tell San Francisco’s residents to get out of Dodge before an earthquake of epic proportions takes down the city. Having seen the ground beneath Los Angeles undulate like a sheet hung in the wind, we can’t help but agree they’d better run fast and far.
While we occasionally see chunks of destroyed buildings fall on some unlucky victim, human fatalities are expertly obscured by clouds of dust or fireballs. More often the human toll simply occurs off camera. Miraculously there are no visible bodies in the aftermath.
The idea is to focus our concern on Ray’s family; Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), the nice young British fellow who rescues Ray’s daughter Emma from a crumbling parking garage, and Ben’s 12-year-old brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) as the three attempt to reach safety.
Certain gambits pay off, though. I found myself wondering who constitutes the intended audience for this film that turns a very real threat into a fantasy. Ray and Emma’s problematic relationship is nicely wedged into the action, but the dismissal of everyone else from the destruction causes all the horror to become surreal.
Disaster films speak a universal language, allowing for their popularity around the world (they are wildly popular in Asia), and this one certainly contains its quota of fun moments. Perhaps in the ‘80s this story’s simplistic plot would have fit right in, but for all its stunning visuals, the fault in “San Andreas” is the writers and producers emphasizing big box office while failing to acknowledge that, for millions of Americans, something very real is at stake.
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