Movie Review: San Andreas

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When a series of massive earthquakes strikes California, an emergency rescue pilot tries to save his family.

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Brad Peyton, 2015

LA-based Rescue-chopper pilot Ray (The Rock) is the guy you want people to call when you’re in danger. He’s made dozens of successful rescues in dangerous circumstances. After one such rescue, he’s due to take his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to college for her first day. When a major earthquake strikes at a dam where Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) is testing his new earthquake-predicting science device, however, Ray has to put his plans aside to go and help. Ray’s ex-wife, Blake’s mother Emma (Carla Gugino), allows her new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) to take Blake instead. During a pit stop at a building he built in San Francisco (because movieland is made of architects), a major earthquake strikes. Ray diverts his chopper to try to save Emma in LA and Blake in San Francisco before the predicted next big quake hits.

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Every few years, a disaster movie comes along to remind us of how cruel mother nature can be and the tenacity of the human spirit. These movies tend to do big bucks, because they appeal to the lowest common denominator. 2015’s entry into the canon features The Rock vs. a massive earthquake, and it’s one of the better examples of the genre in recent memory. It doesn’t hurt that The Rock is enjoyable in pretty much anything, even as a six foot plus mountain of an everyman who’s just trying to hold his family together. He’s eminently watchable, which is a pretty good descriptor for this film. Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario acquit themselves nicely as his ex-wife and daughter, getting a few saviour moments of their own in amongst their inevitable rescues by their action hero – it’s imperfect, but it’s a cut above other examples in its niche. Gugino is especially cool in action survivor mode, while Daddario is saddled with a mildly cute brother team. Her love interest, Aussie Hugo Johnstone-Burt, struggles with the British accent, while the younger Art Parkinson has a certain charm about him. Ioan Gruffudd is wasted in what turns out to be a very pedestrian role. Cutie Colton Haynes shows up for one scene as Ray’s co-worker and then disappears, which makes me think there was probably a sub-plot where he and his friend save a bunch of people in a chopper of their own. Such a sub-plot would have balanced the film nicely; The Rock does very little saving of anyone aside from his family, which makes him pretty selfish when two seconds’ worth of though are applied. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t give you much time to think.

There’s something refreshing about the lack of pure destruction porn this movie propagates. In spite of the ridiculous situations the characters sometimes find themselves in, there’s something refreshingly naturalistic about how the quakes actually occur. Aside from a decent tidal wave near the end, there’s more of a sense of genuine momentum in the survival plotline of this movie; the quakes are simply a series of events that our plucky heroes must get through, rather than major set pieces. Paul Giamatti seems to be enjoying himself as the doomsday scientist (though I wish his assistant, played by Will Yun Lee, had a bigger role). He gets most of the film’s few funny lines. On the whole, the movie looks fine, and hits all the notes it’s supposed to. There aren’t any surprises; the film plays to its tropes, but it does so with relatively likeable characters. There’s a surprising resonance to the family dynamic, and a depth to their break-up that requires The Rock to have moments of vulnerability in order to move forward. It hits a weirdly nationalistic note at the end, which did seem to come out of nowhere for me, but on the whole it’s an enjoyable popcorn flick.

San Andreas on IMDb

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