Call me crazy but I can’t help but enjoy the occasional mindless disaster action movie.
Most recently I laughed my way through 2012 but in years past I’ve been equally entertained by Twister, Volcano, Dante’s Peak, Deep Impact, The Core and so many others.
About a week ago I came across San Andreas in a Red Box and had to pick it up.
Right away I knew I was getting exactly what I wanted, a cheesy rather mindless special effects filled romp. The story offers no real revelations nor does it break new ground. Dwayne Johnson stars as rescue pilot Ray Gaines and we are quickly shown that he is more than competent at his job. We are also just as quick to find out that he is in the midst of a divorce from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and that they have a daughter named Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in a scene that involves Ray looking at divorce papers in the mail and then speaking to Blake on the phone (which also seems to be an excuse to show Ms. Daddario laying at poolside in a bikini) about taking her to San Francisco.
In this rapid fire bit of exposition we also learn that Lawrence Hayes,a seismologist at Caltech, (Paul Giamatti) and his partner have discovered a new way to predict earthquakes and are going to test it at the Hoover Dam. We also find out that Emma is planing on moving in with her architect boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) and he will be taking her to San Francisco not Ray.
After all that pesky “story” is established the movie barrels right into the standard disaster tropes. The first of two big earthquakes happen, giving us one of the few moments of emotion as Lawrence’s partner Dr. Park dies saving a young girl when the quake takes out the dam. From this moment on the deaths, and there are a lot of them, aren’t treated with any more gravity than you would expect in a film like this. It is very much the sort of movie where you are conditioned to pull for the five or so “good” main characters and root for the demise of the “bad” ones (Daniel for example is shown to be such a bastard that you can’t help but cheer for his demise).
But I knew this going in, this movie is not about emotional response nor is it meant to inspire deep thoughts about human condition. This movie is about California falling apart as quakes destroy everything and a tsunami washes it all away. You aren’t asked to think about the mass death happening (although I admittedly did) as buildings fall and water surges through the streets but rather are expected to eat your popcorn and cheer on the beautiful people playing the central family and hope they survive.
Well maybe it did try to pull the heartstrings a little when the elderly couple looked into each others eyes and embraced as the waters surged toward them.
It is purely a stupid summer blockbuster and as such, it works wonderfully. The special effects were solid but nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times in this era of big budget comic book films with super powered men and women battling on city streets. The story was pretty empty but I love the three principles individually and enjoyed the supporting cast as well in their roles which was enough to make the movie worth my time.
I’d never buy it but felt it was worth at least the one viewing.
If you like the occasional dumb effects driven blockbuster or like any of the performers involved maybe you should check it out.
But if you’re looking for something more than purely superficial…run from this like a Californian running from a massive wave.