‘San Andreas’ Review: Myopic to a Massive Fault
Brad Peyton’s San Andreas starts off with (don’t get used to it) a genuinely funny joke, in which a young lady repeatedly imperils herself while driving along a canyon pass, texting on her phone and taking her eyes off the road to rummage through her purse. Repeatedly she almost dies, and repeatedly she’s only saved at the last-minute through the sheer benevolence of the filmmakers, who then choose to shove her off the road with a random rockslide just a few moments later.
It could be a brilliant metaphor for the grim whimsy (grimsy?) of fate, which will soon doom the entire west coast – except for Dwayne Johnson’s family – with apocalyptic earthquakes, whether or not the hapless inhabitants did anything to deserve it. Perhaps San Andreas is selling audiences on the very scary notion that despite our best efforts to prevent disaster, our destiny is predetermined by a callous and unforgiving God, or worse: blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck.
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But instead, San Andreas proves over the next two hours that it has absolutely nothing on its mind other than wanton CGI destruction and an appalling lack of consequence. The state of California is shattered over the course of Brad Peyton’s film – buildings topple, tsunamis charge and the death toll must be enormous – but not once is there a palpable sense of awe or terror. In San Andreas there are no tears to shed over all the millions of injuries and fatalities. In fact, no one who has more than a few lines of dialogue even dies on camera, except for a single coward whose fate was probably only sealed because he’s rich.
To hear San Andreas tell it, the only reason these giant earthquakes even rock the west coast in the first place was to get the mildly estranged family of rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) back together. Gaines’ wife Emma (Carla Gugino) left him over the kind of emotional trauma that can be – and eventually is – resolved over the course of a single conversation, so now she and her daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) are moving in with Emma’s new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).
Fortunately (???) a giant earthquake is predicted by Paul Giamatti’s sci-fi earthquake predicting machine, putting the Gaines family in the perfect set of circumstances to set their baggage aside and prove their love for each other by stealing valuable rescue resources that could have been used to save more than four people. Unfortunately, Giamatti’s Earthquake-O-Tron 3000 only predicts earthquakes a few minutes before they happen, so everyone who hasn’t been blessed by director Brad Peyton and screenwriter Carlton Cuse – read: everyone else in California – presumably dies off-camera.
For the many of us who actually live in California, this narrow approach to the disaster genre – focusing on the survival of a single family while the millions of other residents all die horrible deaths – will probably come as little comfort. If you have any trouble sympathizing with the rote family melodrama of the bourgeois, or with the latest in an increasingly long line of blue collar action movie dads who reclaim their family by just being really good at their jobs, then there is absolutely no one in San Andreas worth giving a damn about.
In fact, aside from the visual effects – which are believable and impressive – there’s nothing whatsoever to give a damn about in San Andreas. The whole world moves and somehow it still doesn’t seem to matter, or even be any fun. The whole point of the disaster genre is that rampant destruction would have an effect on people. By making no impact whatsoever except to a handful of clichéd characters, San Andreas is myopic to a massive fault. It’s the worst disaster movie since Disaster Movie.