Take a Drink: whenever someone’s day gets worse.
Take a Drink: for every building that falls over.
Do a Shot: every time Paul Giamatti pauses dramatically before delivering a line.
Pour One Out: for the woman sitting to my left, who suffered no fewer than three panic attacks and five emotional breakdowns over the course of the film.
By: Hawk Ripjaw (Three Beers) –
Rescue chopper guy Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is good at his job. He knows what buttons to press, he knows what calls to make. Unfortunately, he’s not as good at holding together a marriage, as his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) rewards his latest epic rescue with divorce papers. Emma has traded her rescue chopper husband for krillionaire Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), an architect so fucking rich that if he wasn’t an asshole it would violate every role of screenwriting. Ray is sad.
Meanwhile, seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) has finally developed a way to predict earthquakes. Unfortunately, all he can do with this power is dramatically talk about earthquakes and hide under desks, kind of like if Morgan Freeman got caught outside of a science fiction movie.
When the quakes hit, Ray and Emma’s daughter Blake (the stupidly hot Alexandra Daddario) is caught in the destruction with her new friends, British siblings Ben and Ollie. Ray and Emma, suddenly reunited when Ray is excused from mass rescue efforts by the script, decide that they have to go save their daughter. Earthquakes continue to happen, and… that’s pretty much it.
San Andreas is not, as some Internet “jokesters” would like to suggest, a Grand Theft Auto game. No, it’s about the San Andreas Fault, an area of California that is a couple centuries overdue to start shifting worse than Chris Christie trying to stealthily scratch his butthole. The movie imagines what would happen if the quake finally occurred and holy shit is the destruction ridiculous. Bridges crumple, streets buckle and buildings split apart and tip into each other. This genre, in general, has a fairly artificial feel to it and the action always feels somehow isolated and “safe” to watch. San Andreas gets in your face with some incredibly visceral cinematography that is unafraid to push you right up into the destruction. The action here is as intense as it comes. The CGI is incredibly good, save for one noticeable green screen moment, and the audio is thunderous, chest-rattling bass; if you want to see San Andreas, you need to do so in a theater.
Dwayne Johnson, 2015 Hawk Ripjaw Man Crush candidate and all-around good guy, does a surprisingly good job here. Anyone can look intense and determined, but Johnson really sells that determination with just a sprinkle of emotion. He exudes that “good guy” charisma, and he’s a character that you really want to root for. Not like Dennis Quaid in Day After Tomorrow. Fuck that guy.
San Andreas falls victims to the same thing nearly all disaster movies do; terrible, uninteresting characters. Yeah, we get that people are trying to run away from the disaster. Perhaps one of them is estranged from another character. Possibly, one of them needs to somehow find redemption. Disaster flicks all cherry-pick from the same orchard of tired plot beats, and San Andreas fares no better, often feeling as though the character moments are just halfhearted attempts to give the action a reason to exist. It’s all just connective tissue for director Brad Peyton to destroy the shit out of California. You can almost see Peyton standing over his monitors, laughing maniacally as he watches a person fall out of a collapsing building before someone taps him on the shoulder and whispers in his ear, after which Peyton sighs dejectedly. “All right, do the part with the daughter and her friend or whatever.”
“THEN DESTORY MORE BUILDINGS!!!”
Ahhh, disaster movie endings. Have we ever had a good one? These endings happen when it’s time for the movie to end and the hungover screenwriter has hit his deadline so he types out a quick addendum email to his script on his smartphone while he takes an alcoholic diarrhea at 11 in the morning and doesn’t care about anything beyond how many ibuprofen he can take before his liver gives up. Like many of these films, San Andreas reunites its characters, and then isn’t quite sure what to do with itself, so it just ends with one line from Johnson and a moderately cool shot from above Earth.
Overall there’s just some pretty dumb shit peppered throughout the movie, which doesn’t really downplay the overall entertainment value so much as convey a warm, pleasant sense of absurdity.
San Andreas is a disaster movie. Did you hate Independence Day, Volcano, and The Day After Tomorrow? This movie is not for you. At the same time, it’s not nearly as silly as Roland Emmerich likes to do things. Emmerich is extremely talented, but he has a bad habit of going way too far over the top. Here, Brad Peyton has a little bit of fun, but the humor is a bit more wry and tongue-in-cheek with hardly any instances of comic relief. With gentle injections of humor here and there, the movie doesn’t use comic relief as a crutch to distract from the mayhem, and the overall package manages to still be a blast. It’s not a great movie, but fueled by the charisma of its lead actor and the epic spectacle of California’s destruction, there’s not a lot to complain about, either.