San Andreas English Movie Review
In what starts off as an interesting opening scene, a woman is driving her car on a road adjoining a deep valley and is repeatedly distracted by her phone or her falling water bottle, with cars coming onwards from the opposite direction. Director Brad Peyton, knowing fully well that audiences would be expecting a head-on collision in such a situation, teases our minds but has something completely different in store.
A mini-earthquake occurs and the woman's car veers down the basin and gets stuck in a tree. Herein, everything that could go wrong does go wrong and things tragically fall into place, so our hero Ray (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a rescue pilot by profession, can flex his muscles in the film's opening sequence. And with that collapses any hopes of originality that the opening tease might've offered.
Expecting novelty from a disaster-action flick may have been too much to ask for anyway. The rules of the game are simple: tell the story of separated lovers or a disjointed family with the backdrop of the world turning to dust. As the Earth beneath their feet slips away and buildings and vehicles explode, the lovers or the family find themselves feeling closer to each other than they've ever been. Queue an ending with some unrealistic and false hope about their futures and you've got yourself the perfect blockbuster.
San Andreas and director Brad Peyton, not ones to be left behind, follow the recipe for success religiously, save for some tinkering to adapt to their own choice of disaster: the biggest earthquake in the history of mankind.
Here, you get a cliche back story of Ray's impending divorce and his dead daughter who drowned (despite his valiant attempts at rescuing her). You get another daughter of his, who looks nothing like him or his ex-wife, and thus repeatedly calls him dad to hammer home the point that he really is her dad.
The new twist in the story was supposed to be Ray's profession as a rescue officer, which he completely (and might I add, unethically) abandons to travel hundreds of miles via multiple modes of transport to save his daughter, when he could've stayed back and saved dozens of equally important lives instead.
To be fair, Peyton does pretty well in the one department that was most essential to the film and its genre: building porn. You get to watch all kinds of buildings, in all kinds of structures, all kinds of colors, all kinds of sizes, completely crumbled and annihilated right in front of your eyes, and thanks to some pretty decent VFX (most of the times), great use of 3D (a very rare film that justifies the presence of 3D) and some spot-on camera work (cinematography by Steve Yedlin), you actually get a pretty immersive experience that could leave the weak of heart shaken up.
For a while, this action of buildings rubbing against buildings, ships crashing against ships and the ground literally splitting in two, keeps you involved and distracted enough to make the predictable, by-the-numbers drama bearable and even unnoticeable. But there's only so much pleasure you can get from watching mass destruction and unknowing and unknown people falling off of cliffs and roofs, while a family of cardboard characters has their happy reunion.
You can't expect us to find hope and optimism in the fact that a family we never really come to care about was reunited and all is well with THEM, while thousands of faceless people lose their lives to a senseless act of nature much akin to the recent devastating Nepal tragedy. The fact remains that the whole of San Francisco and its surrounding areas were completely uprooted in the matter of hours, something from which there's no coming back, something from which Peyton and writer Carlton Cuse have no comeback.
What doesn't help the film's human side is the fact that an otherwise overtly charming Dwayne Johnson gets saddled with a part that requires him to grumble and mumble through his scenes. Apart from a couple of instances, there's no trademark wit-despite-seriousness on display from Johnson. His wife Emma, played by Carla Gugino, is also sadly a one-note squeal-queen sort of a character that never grows on you.
Contrary to Johnson, Alexandra Daddario is her own infectiously charming self as Ray's daughter Blake, who is sadly accompanied everywhere by two brothers whose motivations I'm still not completely clear on, except for the older brother's crush on Blake. Ioan Gruffudd, in a very small role, actually plays the most complex and layered character throughout the film. Kylie Minogue's character was so unimportant, she steps off the roof of a building without us even noticing. Paul Giamatti and Archie Panjabi are reasonably effective in their mostly shared scenes.
San Andreas is a rather faithful disaster-actioner that's almost always gorgeous to look at and occasionally thrilling in its building porn, but is let down by its cardboard characters and some uninspired writing. It's hard for me to even write it, but the truth is that with the current state of its characters and their interpersonal relationships, a more mechanical San Andreas might have been a better San Andreas than the present, more human one.
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