Released: 28 May 2015 (UK), 29 May 2015 (USA)
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd
San Andreas registers 9.5 on the cornball scale but is nevertheless two hours of bone-shaking fun. With a screenplay by Carlton Cuse that oscillates between intentional and unintentional laughs, some impressive CGI destruction and an emotionally incapable Dwayne Johnson at its core, it is set for box-office triumph, not disaster.
We first meet Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot Ray Gaines(Johnson) attempting to rescue a blonde damsel in distress. Between playing with her mobile phone, the stereo and generally not paying enough attention to the mountain road, she doesn’t respond quickly enough to falling debris that sends her over the edge – there’s a lovely, slow-motion, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of her hairbrush flying through the air. Fortunately, Gaines and his crew are on hand to attempt a daring winch rescue of the type in which someone shouts ‘don’t worry, we’re going to get you out of there’ and the position of the vehicle becomes that much more precarious.
Gaines is looking forward to driving his daughter Blake (Daddario) to San Francisco. Only he receives two unpleasant pieces of news. First, his ex-wife, Emma (Gugino) has served him with divorce papers. Second her millionaire property developer boyfriend, Daniel (Gruffudd) is not only moving in with her but taking the trip with Blake to San Fran as well. Gaines is a good guy – he didn’t forget his daughter’s bicycle. But you thought he might have been tempted to let down the tyres. ‘So why haven’t you got kids?’ Blake asks Daniel. ‘I’ve been too busy raising these,’ he replies indicating his portfolio of skyscrapers. His latest structure is called the Gate. You hope no one has to live there – I’ve heard about these gated communities. It isn’t long before buildings start shaking, walls fall away and Emma, dining with Daniel’s sister (Kylie Minogue in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo) is being told to get to the roof.
What do the experts say? Paul Giamatti’s Caltech seismologist has come up with some advanced technology to predict the movement of an earthquake, but not as fast we can predict the arc of the storyline. 2.1 tremors turn to 9 point something as the West Coast is about to endure a double whammy quake that threatens to decimate San Francisco. You think to yourself: is this pay back for banning single-use bottled water?
Tempting though it is, I won’t spoil all the zingers and yeasty plot contrivances. Well, I’ll spoil some. At one point, Gaines finds himself saved from a gaping absence of road by an old couple. ‘My eye sight is not what it was,’ says the husband (you wonder if the actor couldn’t read the script). Short of an appropriate vehicle to rescue his daughter from the San Francisco quake, Gaines suddenly asks ‘where did you get that hat?’
Here is a fairly typical dialogue exchange. At one point, a woman asks the muscular Gaines, ‘how did you know this building [indicating a football stadium] would be safe?’ ‘Well, you get close to something sturdy and stay there.’ The film is basically a multi-vehicle road movie in which Gaines, re-united with his estranged wife, makes his way to San Francisco to save his daughter. OK, so when does Johnson have to try acting and show his limitations? Gaines has to explain the reasons for his marital breakdown. ‘I couldn’t save her,’ he weeps. Is he talking about the script? Gugino tries to get in on the zinger action, but somehow she manages to overcook the line about Daniel leaving her daughter behind – and doesn’t think to mention his sister, by the way. However, Blake is in good hands, having been befriended by a boy attending a job interview (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his more direct younger brother (Art Parkinson), who takes one look at Blake and ‘can’t wait until he is twenty’. Drinking age is 21, you want to tell him.
San Andreas would be nothing but for some state-of-the-art collapsing buildings, bottom falling out of a bridge and cargo-tossing tsunami waves. It is also the most quotable film of the year so far – if you discount ‘are you rushing or are you dragging’ from Whiplash. Director Brad Peyton expertly balances groaning buildings and groan-worthy dialogue. We care whether Gaines brings his family back together, though at one point he leaves a plane to pilot itself over the Pacific. I waited until the end credits were finished, just in case the plane finally drops into the ocean crushing another family struggling to escape. Wouldn’t that be ironic?
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