There's More Than One Fault in San Andreas
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- Updated Oct 16, 2015
DVD Release Date: October 13, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: May 29, 2015
Rating: PG-13 (for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language)
Run Time: 114 min.
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffud, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Archie Panjabi, Kylie Minogue
When did Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson become a bankable movie star? A college football player who never made it in the NFL, Johnson was a professional wrestler before he started showing up in movies like 2001's The Mummy Returns. He'd later carve out a niche as a leading man of family films like Race to Witch Mountain and The Tooth Fairy, but it wasn’t until 2011's Fast Five (and that film's $209 million box-office gross in North America) that Johnson solidified his place as an action-movie hero who could draw huge crowds.
Since then, Johnson has continued to star in family movies like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (directed by San Andreas helmer Brad Peyton) while adding to his action-hero cred with G.I. Joe: Retaliation and the sixth and seventh Fast entries.
San Andreas has something for fans of both of Johnson's staple genres. It’s a family-centered story at the heart of an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. While the combination proves awkward and downright silly at times, it also delivers exactly what audiences will be expecting: scenes of immense destruction wrapped around a family-friendly message that boils down to the corny aphorism, "The family that quakes together stays together."
San Andreas is a throwback to the disaster movies of the 1970s—nearly all spectacle, with minimal exposition or back story to get in the way of what people have paid to see: CGI-driven images of a series of massive earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault in the Western United States.
Caught in the madness are rescue worker Ray (Johnson), his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino, Watchmen), and their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario, the Percy Jackson films). While Ray races around San Francisco in various rescue vehicles trying to locate Emma, Blake is befriended by a potential romantic partner in Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt).
The script, written by Carlton Cuse (TV's Lost and Bates Motel), lays out the characters and oncoming disaster in the film's opening minutes, using a seismologist played by Paul Giamatti (Saving Mr. Banks) to spell out the consequences of impending disaster. The cataclysmic event begins with the dramatic crumbling of the Hoover Dam, and is soon followed by quakes closer to San Francisco.
The level of destruction in these scenes is beyond comprehension, but not so much that the viewer doesn't have time to realize how few people—as opposed to buildings and other structures—we see perish during the earthquakes. The filmmakers clearly had an interest in preserving a PG-13 rating, although the lack of visible human death in these scenes merely reminds viewers of the absurdity of this mindless popcorn flick. Shouldn't it come with a little more solemnity amid the gee-whiz! special effects?
If the filmmakers had their way, you'd have no time to ponder such questions. The action starts early in San Andreas, and the earth-shaking effects are designed to leave you so caught up in what's happening that you don't have to time to catch your breath before the next calamity. Giamatti does what he can to raise the story's human stakes, screaming most of his dialogue ("Everybody get off the dam!") during the early earthquake scenes.
Much more muted is the strained interaction between Ray and Emma on the subject of a daughter who died earlier in their marriage. Although the loss of a child is, of course, a painful topic for any couple to discuss, the subject's insertion here feels like the cheapest of ways to gin up sympathy for a movie that otherwise seems close to reckless in its regard for human lives lost during the quakes. The insertion of a traumatic back story is also simply awkward, in the same way that Sandra Bullock's monologue about her daughter was in Gravity—a much better film than San Andreas, but one that also had trouble integrating a human-interest angle with its singular visual experience.
Setting aside the simplicity of the set-up and characters, the major oversight in San Andreas is its near complete avoidance of religion and faith in the face of cataclysm. With the exception of a solemn "God be with you" and "Thank God," the film treats God as an expletive. Instead, the characters' hope is in an earthly father figure who has near superhuman power. Ray barely breaks a sweat while executing rescue missions that, in the real world, would have a minimal chance of success.
Of course, realism and religious implications aren't what San Andreas is selling. It's an action-hero movie dressed up as a family-values film in which previously unthinkable destruction is a means to bring a husband and wife back together and to restore a broken family. That element of the narrative makes for a nice wrap-up to an eye-popping special-effects showcase, but don't be surprised if the film's effectiveness in delivering what it promises leaves you feeling a little queasy. If this movie succeeds at the box office, how much more destruction awaits us in the copycat films that are sure to follow? The mere prospect is enough to leave us quaking inside.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: “God-am- it”; “s-it”; “what the hell”; “oh my G-d!”; the f-word
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: None
- Sex/Nudity: None; a woman poolside in a bikini; cleavage; Ray jokes about the last time he got Emma "to second base"; kissing
- Violence/Crime: Mayhem throughout, including large-scale destruction, skyscrapers toppling, explosions, a dam crumbles, a collapsing parking garage and a tsunami; people fall to their deaths; a foot is pierced by a beam; a shoe amidst the rubble; a man throws another man into the path of oncoming debris; gunfire; a helicopter crash; drowning
- Religion/Marriage: Ray has been served divorce papers by Emma, who's in the process of moving in with Daniel; Daniel says he never had any kids because he was too busy with his career; the dissolution of Ray and Emma's marriage is traced to the death of one of their children; "God be with you"
Publication date: May 29, 2015