The disaster movie juggernaut that is San Andreas made its way to the big screen with as much pomp and pumped-up bluff build-up as a WWE championship match, and while it’s hilariously over the top throughout, it wasn’t entirely without its positives. It’s as American pie as it gets with extra thick red, white and blue filling and a star spangled banner custard smothered on top, but it does just about manage to eek out a little tension and movie-magic awe to compensate somewhat for its more obvious detracting features.
Released in cinemas in the US and UK on the 29th May 2015, it centres around a string of super-massive Earthquakes that devastates California, sitting precariously on the geologically active San Andreas fault line. In the thick of the natural disaster’s destruction is helicopter rescue pilot, Ray, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Furious 7), who’s ex-wife Emma and daughter Blake get themselves into some pretty serious danger during the start of the earth quakes, sending him headlong into the fray in a bid to rescue them both.
It’s not a bad plot on the face of things, but some of the details let it down as the film develops. The fact that Ray and Emma are in the process of getting a slightly ugly divorce following the slow toll that the loss of Blake’s sister in a rafting accident has had on their marriage makes for an interesting perspective, but the obvious setup for rekindled family bliss is pretty cheesy. It’s added to by the weak inclusion of Emma’s current boyfriend Daniel who manages to be both pathetically try-hard and couldn’t give a flying fuzzle all the same short space of time, which just feels a bit too clumsy as a plot device.
In terms of acting, perhaps the best thing that we can say is that their hearts were in the right place if not necessarily the delivery itself. The Rock has clearly had a fair few acting lessons in recent years and they’ve been brought to bear here, but they’re still a little wooden on the fringes. Carla Gugina (Sucker Punch) does her best as Emma, Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) is pretty woeful as slick architect Daniel and Kylie Minogue is a random inclusion with a short scene that (spoilers) doesn’t exactly end too well for her. Even the great Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) doesn’t quite live up to expectations, despite putting in a decent enough performance as seismologist Doctor Lawrence Hayes, who is in the process of researching earthquake precursor signatures in order to predict them before they happen.
However, in all fairness to Johnson, Gugina, Gruffudd and Giamatti they didn’t exactly have a sparkling script to work with. Written by Carlton Cuse, it has some seriously terrible dialogue and while you can see that the cast is doing their best to make them come across as real and sincere, they’re ultimately undermined by the lack of crafting in the lines they have to deliver.
Alexandra Daddario (Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Sea Of Monsters) is probably the highlight in terms of cast performances with good presence, action and skill, which gives a pretty good indication that we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of her in the next few years. She’s definitely the character that you find yourself rooting for the most, but they sort of play that card a little bit too close to the dying bone, which takes away any semblance of credibility the film could have aimed for.
Visually, there are a lot of impressive special effects to gawk at, especially with the eye candy brilliance of 3D. Buildings crash to the ground, a tsunami floods San Francisco and earth-ratcheting rifts open up in the ground with shocking reality. However, sadly, here too San Andreas gets a little over-baked, trying too hard to deliver the wow factor. Sky shots where the land is rippling like the glass of water in Jurassic Park is probably the worst offender, as the decision making behind the film clearly has little time for the “less is more” mentality.
Perhaps the biggest redeeming factor for the movie is in cinematography, which manages to surprise on a number of occasions by delivering some stunning shots. There are also a fair few nice moments where the camerawork moves into more innovative or unconventional territory as it plays with perspective and depth of field to cover the action from a different viewpoint, adding interest to scenes with simple, clever techniques.
It works well with the Hollywood movie magic that’s built into the earthquake disaster pandemonium of LA and San Francisco and while it’s not enough to make the film good as such, it’s this element that has helped it gross so well in the box office. If you are going to watch San Andres, it’s definitely better at the cinema to take in the huge special effects and set construction that has gone into making it such a visually powerful film for the most part.
San Andreas review: 2.7/5