The Hippo


Nov 20, 2019








San Andreas

San Andreas (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

San Andreas (PG-13)

California is gleefully demolished several times over in San Andreas, a delightfully true-to-form disaster movie.
What do you like in your disaster movie? Science-y stuff of questionable accuracy? Major cities destroyed? Divorced couple with reignited romance, thanks to their struggles? Kid in peril? Lots of kids in peril? A secondary love story? If these fixings, used so reliably in disaster movies of the recent past, particularly the ones by Roland Emmerich, are your favorites then think of San Andreas as your pizza supreme of disaster movies — you get all of these toppings plus the extra cheese that is Dwayne Johnson and his straight-down-the-center, not-winking but not-exactly-subtle performance. 
Ray (Johnson) is a Los Angeles area rescue helicopter pilot who spends his days making dramatic saves — such as the driver he pulls from her car, dangling precariously on the edge of a cliff, moments before it crashes to a canyon floor. While his helicopter crew — who seem very important in the opening scenes but are then never seen again — are all big smiles and fist pumps after the job is done, Ray quietly heads off to drive his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), to her college in the San Francisco area. The trip represents some rare together time for Ray and Blake, who lives with her mother, Emma (Carla Gugino) at the home of Emma’s rich developer boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). As a scene of wistful photograph-gazing-at underlines for us, Ray might be willing to finalize his divorce with Emma but he’s not quite over the happy family they once had, one that included a second daughter, whose sad story is the background for Ray and Emma’s marital troubles. Before Ray can pick Blake up, however, catastrophe strikes. A massive earthquake at the Hoover Dam leads to its total destruction along with the flooding of several Nevada cities. Ray is called back in to work to help with rescue efforts and it’s decided that Daniel will fly Blake to school in his private jet. Meanwhile, Emma has plans to head into the relatively small area that makes up the high-rise-filled downtown Los Angeles to meet Daniel’s snooty sister for lunch. 
Also meanwhile, a scientist who was at the Hoover Dam when it went down (along with a reddish-hoodie-wearing colleague whose name might very well have been Professor RedShirt), is studying the data from that event along with readings coming from other areas of California. The scientist, who I liked to think of as Professor Exposition (Paul Giamatti), was working with Professor RedShirt to design an earthquake early warning system. As Professor Exposition explains to TV news person Serena (Archie Panjabi) — who is just sorta around any time stuff needs to be explained — the early readings are now predicting seismic activity along the San Andreas Fault, which runs north and south through California. 
When the big one hits Los Angeles, Emma just happens to be on the phone with Ray, who just happens to be in a helicopter, making it convenient for him to save her after she rushes to the roof and watches as buildings crumble around her.
After Ray rescues Emma — is that really a spoiler in a movie like this? — the two get a call from Blake in San Francisco, where the Los Angeles earthquake was strong enough to cause violent shaking as well. Blake is stuck in a limo after Daniel, who claimed he was running to get help, instead runs away, thus solidifying himself as a jerk whose violent death we can sort of root for later. Luckily for Blake, handsome British guy Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), who she had a cute meeting with moments earlier, and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) help her get free and the three of them can then work together to attempt to find a way to get to higher ground so Ray can rescue them. 
How scientifically valid is anything that happens in San Andreas? Beats me. Scientific accuracy is to a disaster movie like this what nutritional information is to most movie theater snacks — unnecessary and irrelevant. Also basically irrelevant is the movie’s dialogue — it is built for utility, and any effort to round out characters or add moments of humor or romance just feels like unnecessary weight that should have been thrown overboard to get us to the destruction and the scenes of Johnson bad-assery quicker. And San Andreas’s worthiness as a movie really begins and ends with destruction and scenes of Johnson, for example, parachuting into a disaster zone or disarming a looter with a few well-placed punches. That’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re paying for and on that score, San Andreas delivers just fine. 
San Andreas is, on many levels, completely absurd. But then again, of course it is. Of course the acting is hammy, of course the dialogue is laughable, of course some of the special effects don’t completely make visual sense. This isn’t about that. This movie is about the big, loud, adrenaline-filled silliness of summer movies, with just enough story to keep things interesting (more interesting, for my money, than the prettier but duller Mad Max: Fury Road). Do you stop the channel surfing to watch wolves and cold air chase Jake Gyllenhaal in The Day After Tomorrow? If yes, this movie will satisfy. B
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language. Directed by Brad Peyton with a screenplay by Carlton Cuse, San Andreas is an hour and 54 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros.
As seen in the June 4, 2015 issue of the Hippo.   

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