A series of catastrophic earthquakes wreak havoc across the state of California in director Brad Peyton’s impressively produced San
Andreas. If only the screenplay could match his vision.
The film has outstanding visual effects, terrifying sound design, expert editing and a talented cast.
For everything San Andreas has going for it, the pedestrian script from writer Carlton Cuse prevents the film from elevating itself far above
Dialog is stale and clichéd, with little wit or real emotion.
That’s a real problem considering San Andreas places so much emphasis on a father’s search for his daughter amid this unfolding disaster.
As admirable as that concept is, the film feels almost robotic in its bland characterizations.
Fortunately, the film’s cast is likable enough to keep the film afloat in spite of the limited screenplay.
Dwayne Johnson is very strong as rescue pilot Ray Gaines, providing endearing charm in addition to his obvious physical presence. If
there’s any leading actor who we absolutely believe could survive this disaster while flying, skydiving, driving and boating to the rescue,
it's him. His arms might actually be big enough to hold the fault line in place a la Superman: The Movie.
Speaking of which, I was actually hoping a surprise ending would reveal Lex Luthor as the orchestrator of the entire disaster, as the events
mirror his evil plot from that film. Especially when Paul Giamatti’s Dr. Lawrence Hayes discovers the process for detecting earthquakes
before they happen. If he was truly smart, Hayes would have bought up worthless land in the desert and had beachfront property after the
quakes plunge California into the ocean.
Giamatti is perfectly cast as the Caltech seismologist, and even gets one of the best lines in the movie when he solicits help from his
students. He also does a wonderful job delivering the requisite ominous scientific exposition.
Between Johnson and Giamatti, San Andreas maintains a good balance between its two main storylines. Gaines’ search for his daughter is
obviously the ‘A’ story, but Giamatti’s performance keeps the secondary plot from ever feeling tacked on.
There’s also a thread that follows Gaines’ daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario). She meets Ben Taylor (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his
brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) just before disaster strikes, and the trio is thrust into a fight for survival as the city of San Francisco collapses
This is the weakest story in the film, as none of the actors have the presence of Johnson or Giamatti. Plus, Ollie veers a bit too close to the
typical precocious kid stereotypes.
At least this story contains an abundance of spectacular visuals to fuel the film’s spectacle.
Peyton has a lot of fun with shooting the chaos. His camera flies through collapsing buildings and shattered windows.
There’s also a hilarious opening sequence where a young woman is driving along a hillside while texting. Peyton fakes us out with two near
head-on collisions before a quake causes boulders to force her off the road. Is it corny? Sure, but I couldn’t help but laugh.
San Andreas is certainly not a good film, but it succeeds in terms of spectacle and, despite the frightening nature of the premise, is actually
kind of fun.
Call it a guilty pleasure like Peyton’s previous film, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
Also like Journey 2, San Andreas receives a wonderful score from composer Andrew Lockington, who has been doing outstanding work
under the radar for years now. His music makes chilling use of a boys’ choir, and provides a thrilling heroic theme, as well as some
surprisingly emotional writing to bolster the family drama.
I could never say San Andreas is a good film, but it’s an entertaining one, and has just enough going for it in terms of production value and
talent to merit a viewing as a fun spectacle.
If you can turn your brain off, you may just enjoy the ride. And with the thunderous sound design, it really does feel like one.
* * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Carlton Cuse
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra
Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cinematography by: Steve Yedlin
Released: May 29, 2015; 114 Minutes