‘San Andreas’ Film Review: Epicenter disaster

May 29, 2015 - 3D, Action, Disaster/Post-apocalyptic, Epic/Adventure, Film Reviews, Films, Flicks, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood, Suspense/Thriller
Rianne's Score (Click post title for review)
Readers' Score (Click the stars to rate)
[Total: 2    Average: 3.5/5]

San Andreas movie review

Story & Screenplay
Production Design
Sound & Music
VFX/Animation (if any)
Acting/Voice Acting
Commercial Flair

“San Andreas” is predictable fun that hits the disaster territory. It is a heaving mess of a tale with senses-shattering effects to keep many eyes glued to the screen. Its fault is in its storytelling choices, which lack convincing depth and plotting.

This disaster movie presents the classic case of scale and spectacle over story. Its crumbling down California and Nevada sequences showcase pretty competent effects, but its narrative elements render nothing but cracks and crevices throughout. With no emotional weight for the most part, this predictable flick is best watched for its special effects showcase more than anything else.

The story revolves around a heroic public servant whose hang-ups with his dysfunctional family let him feel like it’s the end of the world — until a real worldwide disaster of epic proportions strikes. Every bit of the tale is based on the long overused disaster flick formula. There’s this heroic guy who can’t save his marriage as his ex-wife moves in with her flashy new beau; there’s that haunting past about the loving father failing to save his daughter’s life; there’s that romantic spark between two teens who eventually struggle to survive like the rest of the people around them; there are these scientist partners who stumble into a discovery of the worst type of earthquake to ever hit the world; and there are some heroic and not so heroic casualties that clearly add to the high body count from the seemingly never-ending shaking of the tectonic plates.

This earthquake flick directed by Brad Peyton opens up with great promise. The helicopter-saving-the hanging car sequence works well in its creative build to really kick-start things, as if all the energy in the movie’s need for mood and atmosphere gets focused in it. But as soon as the earthquake issues begin to dominate the tale, the ground opens up to a sadly familiar wasteland that swallows whole the potential for a good film. In no time, this plot-driven picture quickly degenerates from blissfully promising to fatally frustrating.

The cinematic offering’s template is so familiar that characters and plot points can be easily replaced by those from older disaster movies, with the latest possibly being the Roland Emmerich behemoth “2012.” The formula is so clear that this motion picture seems like “2012” reincarnated — only with a different family on the spotlight, but same everything: a family with relationship problems; a sidekick dying but still saving someone during the process; the smartest scientist in the world alongside media people warning everyone about the impending doom; the stepfather being a jerk as soon as the earthquake happens; and the hero of the story getting all the luck in the world by getting all-access rides via a helicopter, a plane, a truck, and a motorboat, inclusive of each split-second maneuvering to escape just about every falling building and other structural debris behind him.

While it is true that there are some engrossing moments in between the chaos of digitally produced action set pieces, it really doesn’t matter how impressively the buildings collapse if the suspension of disbelief is lacking. With the narrative’s loopholes and the endless list of forced details in the script, the viewers passively take the survival and non-survival scenarios as overdone and anything-but-realistic, which shall eventually lead to the material’s old-school commercial values largely slipping away from their memory.

In impressively blending practical shots and CG techniques for such a decently budgeted disaster blockbuster, the relentlessly over-the-top fun works more like disaster porn. Outstanding action with heart-stopping stunts abound. But amidst the fair amount of individually working destruction scenes, the picture ironically offers minimal tension because the story completely drives away from the sentimentality, emotionality, and/or profundity of the proceedings. The money’s worth is clearly geared towards watching the thrilling audio-visual flair, but a fair amount of storytelling wit could have saved the narrative. The special effects look sturdy; the relationships look weak.

What saves this movie from getting buried into the planet’s core is the charisma of its lead character Chief Ray Gaines played by the impossibly charismatic former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Even with the weak dialogue plaguing the screenplay, he is still able to swing in to the rescue while delivering plenty of muscular thrills for the not so demanding audience. With a wry smile, a squint, or a jaw-dropped expression, he often owns the screen to present a Rock-buster picture where the rock-solid hero is always ready to save everyone he could. Overall, the woody characterizations in this movie, which also stars Carla Gugino as Ray’s estranged wife Emma, Alexandra Daddario as Ray’s daughter Blake, Paul Giamatti as the scientist Lawrence, Ioan Gruffudd as Emma’s new lover Daniel, Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Blake’s love interest Ben, and Art Parkinson as Ben’s brother Ollie, are generally able to carry their roles into either the conventionally likeable or acceptable route until each character falls right through the script holes.

This movie’s epicenter is found in the middle of action and mayhem. Its magnitude reaches the top of the scale of mainstream formula. Its intensity boasts digital destruction with characters and plot being less than structurally sound. It is disappointing to know how it is being marketed as an earnest human drama that offers some informative details about what to do during an earthquake — a worthwhile and timely endeavor indeed. However, it merely allows the viewers to spend two hours admiring the work of visual and sound effects artists and technicians.

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