Directed by: Brad Peyton
Premise: A massive earthquake devastates the San Francisco area. A helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) must journey across the city to rescue his daughter (Alexandra Daddario).
What Works: Movies like San Andreas are more like amusement park rides than narrative motion pictures. The story exists as a flimsy conceit to work through set pieces of devastation. In that regard San Andreas works. The action sequences are done well and the moviemakers generally deliver the thrills that audiences will be looking for. San Andreas does something a bit different with its cast. Most disaster films include a lot of characters but San Andreas has a small cast and it focuses on the survival of a family. This is a welcome change. Because movies like San Andreas are special effects oriented, they don’t require great acting but Dwayne Johnson is credible as a father trying to rescue his daughter. Johnson is a large, masculine presence but he is able to convey concern for his family and that gives the film some gravitas. Alexandra Daddario plays the daughter and she is more than a damsel in distress. She is paired with two British tourists played by Art Parkinson and Hugo Johnstone-Burt and the three young people are put in situations in which they have to save each other, giving the movie some moments of heroism.
What Doesn’t: Even though movies like San Andreas prioritize the special effects over the story, there is no excuse for doing so; this is a motion picture, not a theme park attraction, and audiences ought to be able to expect a credible, coherent and dramatically engaging story. Whenever the characters aren’t in mortal danger, San Andreas suffers. In between the action set pieces the movie shifts into a clumsy family drama and it incorporates one of the annoying clichés of the disaster genre: the reunification of a broken family. Before the disaster strikes, Dwayne Johnson’s character is in the last stages of a divorce from his wife, played by Carla Gugino, but when he saves the day the family reconciles. This is almost always a stupid story development, especially when none of the characters change over the course of the movie. Johnson and Gugino aren’t a credible couple; they don’t play like they’re going through a divorce and so the reconciliation has no dramatic impact. San Andreas also suffers from a ton of logical problems. The most obvious is the way Johnson’s character abandons his job duties. He is an emergency helicopter pilot and after a preliminary earthquake he is ordered on a rescue mission. But when the major quake hits San Francisco, Johnson’s character abandons his orders and uses the state’s emergency helicopter to save his own family. San Andreas also suffers from plot holes. The daughter and her parents are separated with no way to communicate but they somehow manage to find each other by wandering around a major city that has been destroyed by a natural disaster. Even stranger is the absence of anyone else amid the ruins. The city of San Francisco has a population of over 850 thousand people but apparently everyone was on vacation when the quake struck because there are no casualties. No injured seek medical attention and no corpses litter the streets. That is one of the more pernicious clichés of recent disaster films on display in San Andreas: the filmmakers offer spectacular destruction but without any human cost. The disaster films that came out of the genre’s heyday like The Towing Inferno and Earthquake were not great movies but they did allow characters to die and they had the decency to opt for a downbeat ending by suggesting that some of us don’t make it. Movies like San Andreas callously present mass destruction without human loss and disingenuously conclude with a contrived happy ending.
Bottom Line: Those who come to San Andreas looking for nothing more than property destruction are going to be satisfied with this movie. But we ought to expect more from a motion picture than that and the story supporting these set pieces is flimsy at best.
Episode: #545 (June 7, 2015)