San Andreas (2015)

Directed by Brad Peyton

Contains spoilers.

San Andreas continues the disaster movie traditions popularized in the 1970s by such classics as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). The movie follows rescue helicopter pilot Ray, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, during and after a series of earthquakes in his efforts to save his family.

From the get-go we're on edge. Of course, everyone knows that this movie involves earthquakes and accidents, so from the opening shot we're expecting something to shock us. Peyton treats us to an irresponsible and possibly teen driver on a windy, mountain road. Panic-inducing shots force you to hold a breath as we see the girl take her eyes off the road and oncoming cars to search the back seat for a water bottle and then to read a text. Whoa, those were close calls. Then there's a rock slide and her car is shoved violently over the cliff at her side and what started out as promising suspense transforms into a car rolling down the hill and into a craggy gorge in an almost comedic manner. This is the moment, just a couple minutes into the movie as a car flips end over end with no sense of realism or attempt at plausible CG, when you learn that this movie has no grasp on quality.

As quickly as we encounter this accident we're just as quickly introduced to Johnson's character, Ray, and a couple others that really don't matter. Ray's a rescue helicopter pilot but he's also buffer than the Terminator and a definitive bad-ass. Without hesitation he jumps from the pilot's chair and out the door, saving the girl from her cliff-hung car and his colleague who's injured, and now we have our unmatched hero.

Those are the ingredients that we have: a promising cinematic wit from Peyton, computer graphics, and a perfect hero in Johnson. But that all amounts to a movie I'd expect from Uwe Boll if he had access to $110 million in funding along with big-name stars, a decent script, and legitimate post-production companies. So, although its entertaining, the movie doesn't go 5 minutes without something new to complain about.

That doesn't mean that this movie is entirely unwatchable. In fact, its actually very entertaining and the disaster sequences have a fantastic visual quality that touches on something primal. They induce massive adrenaline prodded along by, and this is the best part of the movie, an awesome score. And I don't mean 'awesome' in the 1980's surfer, modern over-usage of the word, I mean the definitive and forgotten 'awe-some' usage. Its almost comical that such a powerful score would be in such a mess of a movie.

...while a lot of movies have a semblance of viability in their convolution, San Andreas does not even begin to approach realism or a state of sensibility.

 

Trailers and ads portray San Andreas as an adventurous thrill ride through California, where world-changing earthquakes abound. If you turn off your brain and forget about everything that makes a movie good then that's pretty fair to say. The movie features some intense stunts, harrowing CG/disaster sequences, and film-perfect feats of faith.

The convoluted science in the movie seems to justify the implausibility of many events. It seems like during a table read, for every scene, someone just had to ask, "Well, what could make this even more exciting? Let's do that." Modern movies have a way of having the dominos fall in such a way that a perfect path is laid to the perfect resolution. That makes sense a lot of the time because the story has to be resolved somehow and no one wants to watch characters driving for an hour in silence which is what actually happens during a long drive. For instance, Ray certainly did have to 'air gear' his helicopter to a safe, crash landing after engine failure but it happened to be in the middle of a mall parking lot in Bakersfield where they could yoink some fresh (and surprisingly well-fitting) clothes and steal a car for the rest of the trip.

What I'm getting at is that, while a lot of movies have a semblance of viability in their convolution, San Andreas does not even begin to approach realism or a state of sensibility. The problems and solutions are almost laughable. In multiple instances I heard audible laughter around me during sequences that were obviously meant to be thrilling. At a certain point it felt like everyone gave up on the movie and, indeed, wound up turning our brains off. Its the kind of entertainment that SyFy original movies provide: you can't go into it expecting it to be good, you'll be disappointed and sad for humanity.

 

Johnson gives what's probably the best performance of his career, thus far. Johnson, while still in a somewhat actiony role, is far from his more stereotyped role and this could even be a step away from being typecast as the cliché action hero. He lends real emotion to his portrayal of Ray and the rest of the cast provides admirably with the material they're provided. Probably half of the lines are perfectly predictable, and many are even laughable. That being said, most characters are just unimportant.

There's really only 3 characters that carry any real importance. The rest are filler that the story could really do without. In fact, maybe if the movie were rid of these characters that just take up valuable time we'd get more character development, but that's probably just wishful thinking. That being said, however, its almost applause-worthy how Peyton shoe-horned character backgrounds in between disasters.

 
  • Acting – 6 / 10
  • Story – 1 / 10
  • Cinematography – 5 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 7 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 21 / 30
  • Thrill – 7 / 10
  • Other – 10 / 10

TL;DR: Brad Peyton's most notable achievements as director, besides San Andreas, are Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012) and a Cats & Dogs sequel in 2010: don't expect anything remotely Oscar-worthy. Turn off your brain and enjoy this movie for what it is: mindless thrills in the form of natural disaster CG. Do not expect even a decent story or great acting and don't try to understand the science because there isn't any. Just listen to the soundtrack and let it sweep you up in the earthquakes.

 

Grade F = 57 / 100