a critiQal film review San Andreas (2015)

Plot: After the infamous San Andreas Fault gives, triggering a magnitude 9-plus earthquake in California, a search and rescue helicopter pilot (Johnson) and his estranged wife (Gugino) make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their daughter.

564 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 49s)

The Rock…sorry…Dwayne Johnson is back to leading big-budget action fare (thanks to his turn in Fast Five (2011)). This time out, he’s battling a California earthquake. Would San Andreas be another feather in his cap, or is this a misstep for him?

People still seem surprised when they see Dwayne act, having already pegged him as just another wrestler-turned-actor. But, he’s managed to show some surprising depth (check out his turns in Be Cool (2005) and Southland Tales (2007)), so folks should be expecting more from him by this point. Unfortunately, San Andreas doesn’t do a good job of showcasing this. He’s stoic, even cold throughout most of the film, almost as if he’s not quite into the character he’s portraying. Give him an emotional scene and he just seems to be going through the motions. Carla Gugino, who he’s teamed with before (Faster (2010), Race to Witch Mountain (2009)) helps to balance him out, but even she seems a bit daunted by his stoicism this time around – but, really, the film seems to go out of it’s way to achieve that gruff action hero portrayal, so Dwayne may just be playing along.

Alexandra Daddario, on the other hand, meant to be a smaller role, leaps forward into the fray with her portrayal of Johnson’s less-than-helpless daughter. Forging fresh territory with her strong female role, she manages to drag the viewer in almost in spite of the effects going on around her.

Paul Giamatti and Ioan Gruffudd, both talented in their own right, are largely wasted in San Andreas, with their parts cut short – perhaps mercifully so.

San Andreas, on paper, seems like a sure thing – two parents race to find their daughter during a disaster. It’s a good way to make a huge disaster film like this one much more personable, and the audience should have an easy time relating, despite the huge special effects. Unfortunately, what looks good on paper seems to have lost a lot in the translation to the big screen.

With very little lead-in time before the first major earthquake strikes (and the first recognizable monument bites the dust), San Andreas already loses a bit of audience involvement. Then, with the film seeming to cut back and forth randomly between it’s three different groups of characters – Dwayne and Carla; Alexandra; Paul Giamatti and pals – that link between the audience and the characters takes another beating right from the start. While Alexandra helps garner a bit of that back, the film can’t ever quite recover from it’s initial failings.

As far as the special effects go, while it’s still astounding to watch as California takes a beating, it’s nothing the viewer hasn’t seen before. Sure, it’s fun to watch, but that destruction, even on such a massive scale, doesn’t make the movie entertaining all on it’s own.

With it’s shaky start and seemingly random cut sequences, San Andreas doesn’t engage the viewers on a personal level as much as we would have hoped, leaving viewers to just meander through a semi-meaningless parade of special effects. It’s not without it’s high points (thank you, Alexandra), but it manages to waste most of it’s decent cast in a myriad of bad editing, stunted scripting, and blatant predictability.

If you’re looking for a fun disaster film, try checking out Volcano (1997) – and see for yourself what San Andreas could have been.

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