You sort of know what to expect when you buy your ticket for “San Andreas”. It’s a big, loud, stupid and is a CGI laced disaster film that will kill millions of people so causally but will also be the best couples therapy (for our characters) in the world. If you come in expecting anything else, I just have to ask what were you really expecting? I was hoping for nothing more than a dumb disaster film. Some of my favorite guilty pleasure movies of all time are disaster films like Michael Bay’s enormously fun but fiercely stupid film, ” Armageddon” . I am also a fan of “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Dante’s Peak”, so there is a part of me that does really enjoy a big bombastic disaster film from time to time.
Perhaps that’s why I am so torn on this film. This movie has everything in for a disaster movie to be a good disaster movie but maybe it’s too by the books. “San Andreas” has all the horrible lines of dialogue that you need to laugh; huge and sometimes thrilling set pieces but it plays like a greatest hits album of different disaster films and doesn’t put its own mark on the genre nor does it execute it’s own tropes well enough either.
The story is simple (as it should be). By the miracles of “movie science” the entire San Andreas fault line is about to shift and going to cause a massive Earthquake. A helicopter rescue pilot makes his way across California to save his family and reconnect with his estranged ex-wife (instead of rescuing others). And….that’s really all there is to the film.
Directed by Brad Peyton of “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and “Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” fame; “San Andreas” is certainly looked to be inspired by the modern Roland Emmerich style of Disaster Porn filmmaking, where everything in site has to be destroyed in some way. Emmerich, director of “Independence Day”, “2012”, “The Day After Tomorrow” (and surprisingly “The Patriot”) would be the perfect director to be brought on to helm this project. However I assume since he is a little bit busy with the “Independence Day” follow up that he is unavailable, so Warner Bros brought in whomever could copy his style best. I say this because this movie really feels like it’s trying hard to be the next “2012” but Peyton (dare I say it) doesn’t have the same skill set that Emmerich does in the genre.
Peyton and the film’s screenplay rushes very quickly into the disaster carnage not giving us nearly anytime to anticipate….well anything. While Peyton is smart enough to spare us the 158 minute running time of “2012” (leaving us with a 114 minute runtime) but he forgets his pacing. Even the scenes where the chaos ensues, everything feels rushed. No moments when we slowly start to realize that an Earthquake is about to hit. Instead “San Andreas” elects to jump right into everything very quickly and end it quickly as well. There is a scene at the Hoover Dam that should have been a big and memorable set piece but it (once again) begins and ends too fast. Then the aftermath of the event isn’t felt because the movie is rushing to the next set piece or focusing too much on the family drama. All the disaster films I listed in the first paragraph have moments where we can catch our breaths and reflect on what’s going to happen or what just did happen. “San Andreas” rarely gives us that option.
The movie isn’t unwatchable though. There are throughout a few exciting sequences (especially when our main characters have to drive a boat across a rolling a raging Tsunomi). The special effects are for the most part great but does suffer from time to time where the CGI is a bit too obvious and some effects that would be okay 10 years ago are not so passable today. It’s a mixed bag in that regard.
Yet, every time Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Paul Giamatti are on screen this film receives a jolt of electricity. These two actors energy levels really make every scene involving them all the much better. Over the years I’ve become a fan of The Rock with his amazing charisma and ever improving acting chops and “San Andreas” he owns this movie. At this point I’m on board with whatever he wants to do and if he wants to fight an Earthquake then I am on board.
While not to be out done is the great talents of Paul Giamatti. He plays a perfect balance of self serious and an over the top crazy scientist type. I’m not sure if the acting choice by Giamattii was deliberate or not but he delivers every horrible lines of dialogue to amazing effect. Look no further than the trailer for his best moment. “Who should we call?” A fellow scientist asks upon learning of the great earthquake that is to come when Paul Giamatti replies with his eyes bulging (like something out of Looney Tunes cartoon) and with a deep serious but quiet voice, “everyone”. It’s unintentionally funny….but I don’t care, I love it.
There is some fun to be had with “San Andreas” and I believe it will be greatly enjoyed by many people. For me though, it doesn’t quite make the cut. “San Andreas” has all the makings of a great (and memorable) disaster movie (I mean The Rock fights an Earthquake, that cinematic gold) yet “San Andreas” is too formulaic and by the numbers while also feeling way too rushed. This is a great movie for cable and if it’s ever on I wouldn’t mind sitting down to watch parts of it again. For now though I don’t have any urge to sit and watch it again in theaters.