SanAndreascoverGrade: C+
Entire family: No
2015, 114 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English TrueHD 7.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

You don’t have to be a seismologist to know that San Andreas is far-fetched—though an expert will certainly confirm your suspicions.

In this 2015 disaster movie starring Dwayne Johnson, an earthquake caused by a fault no one even knew about completely destroys the Hoover Dam, setting off a chain reaction that leads the San Andreas Fault to shift dramatically. When that happens, all of Los Angeles spectacularly crashes and burns—no spoiler here, you’ve seen the previews—and all the massive skyscrapers and buildings for many miles topple like dominoes. Then a second quake and a tsunami knock down everything and everyone who thought they’d survived—again, in spectacular fashion. We’re not just talking about L.A., either. The destruction begins in the City of Angels with a 9.1 quake on the Richter scale and spreads across California, with a second major quake to the north registering a 9.6.

SanAndreasscreen1The actual San Andreas Fault is nearly 800 miles long and has the potential to cause a disastrous earthquake, but not one above 9.0. That’s because, according to experts, the fault is not long or deep enough. Plus, the level of destruction wouldn’t be nearly as massive. Scientists predict a San Andreas earthquake would cause 1800 deaths and 50,000 injuries, with hundreds of old buildings and a few skyscrapers collapsing—nothing remotely close to the wholesale destruction we see in the film.

Then again, subtlety has never been a Hollywood trademark. Thinking back to disaster movies of the ‘70s that started it all—films like Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno—I’m struck that at least this time there isn’t a woman like Shelley Winters shrieking in panic the entire time. Besides, these are popcorn movies that rely more on story than factuality, and on special effects more than story.

Viewers will recognize two stories combined into one: Godzilla (only this time it’s nature doing the stomping) and any number of cop dramas where the guy has to rescue his estranged wife and/or daughter. Paul Giamatti SanAndreasscreen2plays the lone scientist trying to warn everyone (really?). So it’s all pretty familiar, and if you happen to miss the first act you’re not missing a lot. We don’t learn much about these people except that Ray (Johnson) is a helicopter rescue pilot who served with his team in the military, and his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is moving in with real-estate developer Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Ray’s not happy about that, but grown-up daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) understands and provides another person for him to worry about when the quake strikes. The only backstory we get is that Ray and Emma had a daughter named Mallory who drowned years earlier, so of course that tsunami proves especially terrifying. Throw in a few British brothers visiting California (Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson) and you get a romantic sideplot and comic relief.  

If San Andreas skimps on character and story development it’s because it goes all-out on the special effects. These are perhaps the coolest and most lavish special effects I’ve seen in a disaster movie, and for many viewers that will be enough. But the sight of The Rock in a boat (how’d he get that?) navigating through debris that would sheer a cotter pin on most propellers and going RIGHT to a building where he needs to go, or seeing The Rock pilot his helicopter to a building where he knows someone dear to him is on the roof because he told her to head for high ground is so far-fetched that it makes the special effects—well, less special.

San Andreas has its faults but it’s not a complete disaster. For those who demand logic and some character development it probably merits a C- because it is so implausible, with no development beyond the CGI effects. But if you’re a thrill seeker at heart and you live for special effects, you’ll probably love this film. Certainly the effects are better than average.

Language: One “f” word and the usual scattered scatalogical expletives and a damn or two
Sex: n/a
Violence: Pretty intense action at times, which is mostly why it’s rated PG-13
Adult situations: No drinking or smoking (who has time?)
Takeaway: If you just strap yourself in and expect a thrill ride rather than a fully developed movie, you won’t be disappointed. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

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