By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on Movies: San Andreas
SAN ANDREAS (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Brad Peyton, 2015
“I never will forget…Jeanette MacDonald!
“Just to think of her gives my heart a pang!
“I’ll never forget that brave Jeanette,
“As she stood there in the ruins and sang…‘San Francisco! Open your Golden Gate….’”
From “Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall”
Hang onto your hats, catastrophe lovers. and grab your seismographs. The entertainingly ridiculous earthquake movie San Andreas — in which that famous Fault we Angelenos dread cracks apart and sends much of Los Angeles and San Francisco crashing down into the streets, the freeways, and the ocean — and tsunamis rise and skyscrapers topple, and we’re all invited to grab our theater seat armrests and shiver and shake and scream and go “Aaaaaw!“ and laugh our heads off, as maybe thousands (no, maybe millions) of our fellow citizens are imperiled, threatened and sometimes fricasseed before our eyes…Well, that shakin’ bakin’ show has moved into the multiplexes as of last weekend and is dragging thousands, no millions, more potential victims (excuse me, movie fans) in with it.
This big dumb but sometimes amusing disaster movie — directed by Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and scripted by writer Carlton Cuse (“Lost“) — doesn’t miss an earthquake trick — except perhaps bringing back Sensurround, the theater-shaking device dreamed up by some William Castle wannabees for the 1974 big dumb disaster movie, Earthquake.
But who needs the theater to rock and roll? Instead, we get plenty of shots of the movie hero once known as The Rock (Dwayne Johnson to you), flexing his muscles and smiling his irresistible smile, and swooping to the rescue. As courageous and good-hearted helicopter search-and-rescue guy Ray Gaines, Johnson is constantly shown racing around in his helicopter or every other vehicle he can grab or steal. to try to save his family — that would be Ray’s soon to be ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and his doting daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), one of whom is in L. A. and one of whom is in Frisco — from the series of near ten-on-the-Richter-scale doozies triggered by that supposedly inevitable grand disaster we nervous Angelenos call The Big One.
What a guy! As the West Coast obligingly falls apart, Ever-Ready Ray outmuscles and outtsmarts and outshakes the earthquakes at every fresh disastrous moment, besides rescuing his womenfolk from the craven antics of Emma‘s odious new rich fiancé’ Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), a cowardly skyscraper-building cad who runs away and leaves Blake in the lurch and deservedly has a building fall on him. And, as if all that weren’t enough, Ray also finds time to benignly further the romance between Blake and her cute new plucky Brit boyfriend Ben (Hugo Johnson Burt), who latches helpfully onto Blake when Bad Daniel lets her down, working heroically to rescue her from everything, along with his nerdy smart-alecky younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson).
Amazingly, during the entire movie, no matter where he is, Ray seems instantly able to find his wife and daughter wherever they are, and get to them, even when their Cell phones fail and the buildings crumble and collapse around them. That includes one nerve-blasting scene where Ray locates Blake, with seconds to spare. in Frisco, and he and Blake yell at each other underwater through a glass wall after the tsunami hits and the Golden Gate Bridge drops into the drink.
Meanwhile, seemingly the only seismic expert on duty during all this geological havoc, is the always reliable Paul Giamatti (an actor who never found a movie he couldn’t help), playing excitable Cal Tech earthquake-ologist Lawrence, who keeps trying to warn the West Coast (and for that matter the East Coast) about the approaching string of shakes and quakes, yelling or predicting his head off before TV cameras, and telling everyone within range to dive under tables when the quake hits — and diving under his own table (with his cute seismological colleagues), whenever a fresh tremor hits his headquarters.
Need I tell you what happens to Century City? And Hollywood? And the freeways? And Hoover Dam?Did I say Hoover Dam? Yes, there’s a quake in Nevada too, in the movie’s first big disaster scene, and Lawrence is there when it hits, screaming his head off and warning everybody as they run past him and the dam shatters and the floodgates open. Ray is there too (in the prelude teaser disaster that suggests the movie’s inevitable string of cliffhangers and catastrophes). Muscles flexing and smiling his irresistible smile (excuse me, I meant muscles flexing and furrowing his magnificent brow), Ray already, in that prelude, begins swooping down helpfully and heroically in his helicopter, off which he will soon be dangling to save another beautiful imperiled lady in another cliffhanger, with a car teetering over yet another catastrophe and what once again seems certain death.
Obviously our nomenclature is wrong. It is the Rock (a.k.a. Dwayne) himself who is the Big One. That certainly goes for his role in this movie, in which he does everything but put the quake in a hammerlock, crush it with body slams, and beat the living hell out of it –and in which the buildings keep falling and crumbling, and rocking and rolling, even as Ray keeps saving trapped and endangered ladies.
Ray’s day job, supposedly rescuing other imperiled folks during the disaster, may be temporarily somewhat neglected. But give the guy a break. After all, when the quakes and every last aftershock are over, and the last building has collapsed into rubble, Ray doesn’t just stand there in the ruins and sing. The first thing he says after rescuing everybody, while standing proud, and watching the sun shine gloriously over the decimated Frisco Bay area, is the inspring proclamation “Now we rebuild.” Now we rebuild? What a guy! What a helicopter! What a tsunami of spectacular CGI effects! What a city (cities)! What a dam! What a script! What an earthquake! Just to think of them gives my heart a pang.
END OF ALERT
Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but these filmmakers left their heads. San Andreas is full of faults and it’s as preposterous as Sensurround and Smellovision put together. But I can’t honestly say I didn’t enjoy some of it. The movie never stops racing and tumbling and dodging all those falling, crashing buildings — just as Paul Giamatti never stops diving under his table and yelling at everybody to duck. I’ve been though a dozen or so earthquakes myself (they usually last less than a minute) , including Northridge, which lasted longer and put my entire book, record and VHS collections on the floor– and I can say with some authority that even the not-so-big ones aren’t any fun. But the movie often is, even though it’s still a dubious expenditure of time and money and tables.
Then again, none of those lesser quakes I went through had an opponent like Dwayne, a.k.a. the Rock — a congenial chap and a truly likeable icon who is probably better for this kind of role than the old guard of Stallone and Schwarzenegger were. He‘s a guy who can flex a muscle and furrow a brow and smile irresistibly and (thanks to CGI) dangle off a helicopter with a city falling to pieces under him, like Judy Garland could sing “San Francisco.”
It’s an absurd movie of course. You were expecting maybe Titanic?