Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: San Andreas

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
Family in peril? Check. Hero who failed in the past to save someone and is still haunted by it? Check. Brainy scientist who nobody believes? Check. Exploiting images of 9/11 by portraying cities crumbling and people falling from high places? Check. Sequences in which characters resolve personal issues, only to be followed immediately afterward by additional scenes of peril/buildings crumbling/water gushing/streets splitting open/etc.? Check.

But here's the thing - despite relying on every cliche to be found in the Disaster Movie Prototype, which stretches from the 1970s ("Airport" and "Earthquake") to the unfortunate 1990s revival (the middling "Volcano" and the disaster porn standard bearer "Armageddon"), "San Andreas" is not half bad. In fact, it's a pretty decent summer blockbuster. And, in fact, it's a little better than all of the films I just referenced.

The picture opens with helicopter-bound rescue worker Ray (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) saving a girl stuck in a car hanging off a cliff - how does one find oneself in that position you might ask? I digress. Shortly afterward, we meet a scientist (Paul Giamatti) who is working on finding a way to predict earthquakes before they take place. While conducting research at the Hoover Dam, a massive quake knocks down the structure, killing his partner and numerous others.

As it turns out, the Nevada quake is only the beginning of a seismic event taking place all along the titular fault. So, those who love movies with nonstop special effects will rejoice that not one or two, but three major earthquakes occur during the picture's two-hour running time - first in Nevada, then in Los Angeles and, finally, in San Francisco.

And, of course, Ray and his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Carla Gugino) - who is now dating and plans to move in with a slick businessman (Ioan Gruffud) who we just know will do something sleazy once all the shaking begins - are in L.A. for the first quake, while their daughter, a survivalist type named Blake (Alexandra Daddario), just happens to be in San Francisco for the second quake, meaning the estranged couple must work together to get from one city to the next to save their daughter, who pairs up with a young Brit and his little brother to escape the melee. Seriously, no cliche left behind.

But despite the use of some very well-tread plot devices and occasionally annoying special effects that once again plunder the American psyche by mimicking 9/11-style mayhem, "San Andreas" is an effective summer movie. Despite their being cliches, we care enough about the characters to be invested in their survival - well, perhaps with the exception of Gruffudd's increasingly sinister soon-to-be stepdad - and the effects are well-done. And, therefore, it's pretty easy to forgive the "San Andreas" faults. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

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