Film Review: San Andreas

In association with the Grosvenor

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A big danger with disaster films is that they can often rely too heavily on their premise to create suspense. The sweeping shots of ruined metropolises found in the likes of The Day After Tomorrow aren’t an acceptable substitute for proper narrative and solid film-making. Harder still is to maintain the mystique of the threat for too long; you know the volcano from Volcano is gonna blow sooner or later, and from then on everyone’s playing catch-up.

San Andreas does its best to learn these lessons, but in doing so creates a confusing movie. It’s like there were two scripts produced about earthquakes and they just decided to edit them together. In one, Paul Giamatti plays an under-appreciated seismology professor whose breakthrough in earthquake detection coincides with the first of the catastrophic quakes the film revolves around, killing his close friend in the process. Rather than ending his storyline after this exposition, he then spends the rest of the film trying to warn innocent Californians about the ensuing danger. In the other coinciding movie, Dwayne Johnson plays a decorated air force veteran cum rescue-helicopter pilot who needs to save his wife and daughter from the rapture.

Johnson’s storyline is pretty much the sole source of all the promotion of the film, despite sharing significant screen time with nerds at Caltech and Alexandra Daddario as the extremely resourceful daughter character traversing treacherous San Francisco. After being the top grossing actor of 2014 and reviving the Fast and Furious and G.I. Joe franchises it’s easy to see why Johnson would be a top choice, and he’s believable in the role too, as a muscle-bound real-American hero. To his credit he puts in a good performance, including one real tear-jerking scene: this isn’t a mere Rocksploitation flick.

San Andreas might not be what you expect, but it still isn’t great. Some of the CGI destruction is cartoony and excessive, the pace is disjointed and the plot is confusing, and despite some great talent and the odd emotional moment, missing San Andreas wouldn’t be earth-shattering.

[Jimmy Donaghy]

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