Disaster movies are a genre unto themselves – they follow the same formula, feature the same sort of characters, with the same levels of contrived drama and shallow plots. ‘San Andreas’ ticks most of these boxes, but it also creates whole new ones.
These new boxes are brought to us mostly by The Rock himself, Mr Dwayne Johnson, now one of the highest-grossing film stars in entertainment history. Johnson plays Ray Gaines, an everyman helicopter rescue pilot, whose family is caught up in the chaos as the San Andreas Fault causes massive destruction along the west coast of the USA.
The admirable thing about Johnson is that he knows his limitations, and to that end, the really deeply emotional stuff is kept to a minimum in ‘San Andreas’. This allowed Johnson and his co-stars to not only concentrate on delivering a decent disaster movie, but also do their best when the script (which I’ll get to later) called for some tears.
Speaking of the co-stars, besides Johnson himself, the cast is populated by little-known names. Carla Gugino (‘Watchmen,’ ‘Sin City’) has co-stared with The Rock before in Disney’s ‘Race to Witch Mountain’; she’s a fair actress all round, and here she does rather well as Johnson’s ex-wife, Emma. Instead of playing the distraught female, she gets in there and handles herself as well as anyone else. The same can be said for Alexandra Daddario as Ray’s daughter Blake who does as much rescuing as getting rescued. Aussie Hugo Johnstone-Burt plays Blake’s British love interest, Ben, while ‘Game of Thrones’ alum Art Parkinson is his little brother, Ollie. Rounding out the cast are Paul Giamatti as the expert-who-saw-it-coming-and-no-one-listened-to and Ioan Gruffudd as the cad step-father. See what I mean about ticking boxes?
So, technicalities: the 3D is really good, enhancing without being gimmicky. The score is very patriotic and exactly what you’d expect from this kind of film. Direction seemed fair, as were the performances. However, editing was a bit frustrating, especially in the beginning: flash cut fever must have struck the editing team, because it was too choppy and all over the place. Thankfully it settled a bit as the action heated up, and things get shaky real quick (ha ha).
The script though... hit and miss. A couple of decent one-liners (delivered by Ray) did their best to temper the stereotyped, stock-standard disaster script. I reckon there must be a template somewhere these writers use: “insert unnecessary pause here,” “ignore everyone else dying there.” Where they deviated though was in the backstory provided for Ray and his family. While it’s not unusual to have the parents separated and possibly reunite in these films, it is fairly unusual to tell the audience why they’ve split up. The introduction of this little aside gave a bit more depth to the otherwise standard storyline of everyman rescuing family. It also allowed Johnson to try his hand at a bit of drama. While we know he can be damn funny, it’s not often we see him play emotions, and really, considering his background, he’s not bad.
While we know Dwayne Johnson can be damn funny, it’s not often we see him play emotions.
Another issue with the script is that the actual disaster was just background to the family rescue story. While the special effects were good, I kept expecting to see more of them. Where were the long shots of earth being torn asunder? A ripple here and there and some falling buildings do not an earthquake movie make. The pace was a bit off too – it started slow, cut back and forth between Ray and his daughter, and then there was a little tension and the end. I kept expecting more of a climax, which never came.
Overall, ‘San Andreas’ is quite a decent disaster film. If you like those, you will like this, because not only does it follow the tried-and-tested formula, it adds a little extra too. It’s not going to win any Oscars, but it’s not trying to, and that’s okay with me.