Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Paul Giamatti, Archie Panjabi, Ioan Gruffudd
Rated PG-13 for Intense Disaster Action and Mayhem Throughout, and for Brief Strong Language
Putting it bluntly, "San Andreas" kicks ass. It may be on the limited side when it comes to story, character and acting, but for pure, awe-inspiring, visceral pleasure, there's nothing else like it. It certainly beats "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" hands down.
Watching this movie, I feel like I was back in the 90's, where not every action movie featured a guy in a cheesy costume with an even cheesier nickname, where the hero, if he's not named James Bond, isn't trying to save the city or the world but instead trying to save the girl or his daughter. And where the words "sequel," "remake," "reboot" do not apply, and neither Joss Whedon nor Marvel or DC are to be found. It was an era where you could find movies like "Speed," "Twister," or "Dante's Peak." And there's, gasp!, sunshine!
Before all hell breaks loose, we meet the characters. Ray (Johnson) is a helicopter rescue pilot (the opening scene is strongly reminiscent of "Cliffhanger's" opening). He's got a daughter named Blake (Daddario) whom he has promised to drive up to school so he can see her volleyball game and have some father-daughter bonding time. He is in the process of divorcing his wife, Emma (Gugino), but that may have had something to do with a family tragedy in the past. Emma has, to Ray's shock, moved in with Daniel Riddick (Gruffudd), a fantastically wealthy architect. There's also Lawrence (Giamatti), a researcher at Caltech who is trying to test his theory that will allow him to predict earthquakes. Naturally, all of these little dramas will be solved through trying to stay alive through an epic earthquake.
In many ways, director Brad Peyton seems to be directing this movie the same way Michael Bay does: paying only lip service to story and character development while devoting his time to the orgy of special effects and destruction. That's not such a bad thing, because "San Andreas" is about 20 times more entertaining than anything Bay has done since, well "The Rock" (which is the only reason why I keep defending him...). There's plenty of "oohs" and "ahhs" to go along with the destruction, something that Bay hasn't been able to generate since his 1996 masterpiece. In fact, the film as a whole is so exhilarating that the climax can't top what came before it.
Dwayne Johnson has long since left his wrestling days behind him (although he still makes occasional appearances on the WWF, but since I don't watch it, I don't know what that entails), and has become the successor to muscle-bound heroes like Arnold and Stallone. He has also grown into being an adequate, although not spectacular, actor. His range is limited, but with the right script and director, he can do very good work ("Faster" is an example). Sadly, this isn't the best example of his talents. In fact, he's miscast; someone who looks more like an "average guy" would have been better. Carla Gugino is a talented character actress, but she's rather flat here. Alexandra Daddario is delightful, but doesn't get much to do in the way of acting. She's better than Aussie soap star Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who probably would have been more at home in a Merchant-Ivory movie. He's hunky, but lacks the testosterone needed for this sort of movie. More appealing is Art Parkinson, who plays his kid brother.
It goes without saying that a movie where buildings are leveled left and right and people are violently dying everywhere that 9/11 and the recent earthquake in Nepal would be brought to the forefront of one's memory. It is perhaps unavoidable, but the film avoids using those memories for its own gain. The movie stands on its own, and for that I was thankful.
In a statement that I don't quite believe I'm making, I have to say that this movie must be seen in IMAX 3D. The images are bright and colorful, there's no drag, and no eye-strain. THIS is how to do 3D.
For everyone who is like me and is sick and tired of superheroes, "San Andreas" is a most welcome antidote.