What a difference a little bit of extra thought can make for a review. I had originally opted to give San Andreas an extra half star (for a mixed two and a half star review), but the more you think about this disaster epic, the more the plot holes and senseless moments overshadow the strong special effects and leading man performance of Dwayne Johnson. Seriously, I’m going to have to devote a good chunk of time to the ways in which this movie ignores its own logic and initial choices. Director Brad Peyton seems only concerned with staging destruction, which he’s admittedly successful at, but it comes at the cost of an already poor screenplay being apparently only sporadically glanced at. Johnson gives one of his better performances, oddly enough, but while his storyline with Alexandra Daddario and Carla Gugino (the former of which is pretty solid, while the latter is wasted) is disaster movie 101, there’s such a disregard for everyone else in the film that it never works. With your brain turned off, there are things to enjoy in a silly way about San Andreas, but if you spend even a moment thinking about what’s happening, everything falls apart. Towards the end of the movie, I was almost going to recommend it, but between then and my train ride home, I’d gone down to two and a half stars. Now, it’s just two, and we’re close to dropping. Simply put, San Andreas cracks in half under any pressure or thought at all.
The story starts by establishing veteran Ray (Johnson) and his crew as the best helicopter rescue team out there. After a successful mission, Ray heads to see his daughter Blake (Daddario) and estranged wife Emma (Gugino), who has just sent him divorce papers. Ray was planning to take Blake up to San Francisco and to college, but a big earthquake in Nevada scuttles those plans, leaving Blake to go with Emma’s rich new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Little do they all know that Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a professor at Cal Tech has been working on predicting quakes and has discovered that this huge one in Nevada is just a precursor to the whole San Andreas fault going, leaving destruction all throughout Los Angeles and San Francisco. As soon as the news hits, Ray leaves his team (who we never see or hear from again, but more on this later), going in search of first Emma and then Blake, who’s separated from Daniel and now looking for safety with Brit Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his pre-teen brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), the former of which is instantaneously in love with Blake. From there on, it’s just waiting for the inevitable reuniting of family and fight for survival. The cliches are to be expected, but it’s the plot holes that really do this one in.
There’s not a whole lot of acting required here, especially when a lot of the time the cast needs to just react to CGI, but Dwayne Johnson manages to overcome that for the most part. He looks and feels like an action hero, so this solid performance cements him as a leading man. He won’t win any awards for his work here, but it’s one of his better acting jobs to date. Johnson handles the melodrama surprisingly well too, all while having the action hero screen presence we expect from him. Alexandra Daddario is the second lead here and shows that she has more than good looks to offer. Fans of True Detective know that she’s got the goods, so while this isn’t an amazing showcase of her acting talents, it does show her with some charisma and a screen presence worth taking note of. Daddario deserves bigger and better roles from here on out. Everyone else is underutilized or downright wasted, with Carla Gugino mostly having to give CGI reaction shots and Paul Giamatti making the best of a straight paycheck type of situation. Ioan Gruffudd is inexplicably turned into a villain at one point, but he’s unremarkable all around. In addition to the aforementioned love interest Hugo Jonstone-Burt and sidekick Art Parkinson (both of whom are mediocre), the supporting cast includes Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue, Archie Panjabi, and Todd Williams. Unsurprisingly though, it’s all about Johnson here.
Director Brad Peyton is so concerned with spectacle here that he completely bungles any sense of a story. It’s as if he took an already crummy screenplay by the trio of Carlton Cuse, Andre Fabrizio, and Jeremy Passmore, glanced at it once, crumpled it up, and threw it away, never to be referenced again. There are plot holes galore, which you get in dumb popcorn fare like this, but not usually on the level we see here. As just a few examples: Johnson’s character is established as a team player and someone who just goes where he’s told, but immediately abandons his team to find his family, with his teammates never seen or referenced again. Gruffudd has a big speech where he’s set up as a nice guy, but as soon as the shit hits the fan, he becomes an asshole. Giamatti’s character never comes together with the rest of the story, and to boot he’s literally referenced as “someone whose warnings we should have listened to” when those warnings are being stated for the very first time. It’s those types of head scratchers that take a lot of the fun away. Peyton also seems to want to make a feel good movie at times, shielding us from any real effects of the disasters at hand. It’s a curious decision, but just one of many that doesn’t work here. Cuse, Fabrizio, Passmore, and Peyton only want to blow your mind with visuals, but instead they blow your mind with gaps in logic.
Ultimately, I suppose San Andreas will work on some level for disaster porn aficionados, but it’s just too dumb to even come close to recommending. You’d have to love these sort of blockbusters and be a big Johnson fan to overcome Peyton’s mishandling of the spectacle. Yes, it’s meant for you to enjoy with your brain turned off, but even as the summer movie season gets underway, we deserve more than this has to offer. Quite frankly, you can do a lot better than San Andreas for your cinematic needs. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you about this one.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!