Thursday, May 28, 2015
Review: "San Andreas"
"San Andreas" is like a lot of second-tier summer action movies: it's not very original, it's not very smart, it contains several gag-inducing unintentional laugh moments -- yet it'd be unfair to say that it's not breezily entertaining.
It's essentially a remake of "2012" from a few years back, with a natural disaster laying waste to large stretches of populated lands as various groups of people struggle to escape the unfolding mayhem, with ashen-faced scientists popping in occasionally to explain what's going on and warn that the worst is yet to come. It even recycles that movie's story of a divorced couple rekindling their love amidst the chaos.
Hey, I'm sure the millions of dead don't mind their fate if one family is brought back together!!
I admit I've kind of soured on Dwayne Rock's stardom. He showed some sneaky acting chops and deft comedic timing in a few offbeat roles, many of them supporting, but at some point he and his handlers decided he needs to be Schwarzenegger II. It's all popping muscles and post-smash quips these days.
(Though few in Hollywood seem to notice that he's better at invigorating existing film franchises as a sideshow player than his own star vehicles.)
"San Andreas" rehabilitated him a little bit in my estimation. He uses his big soulful eyes more than his swollen body. He plays a dad who's wounded and vulnerable, and just wants to protect his family. It makes him a lot more sympathetic as a character.
He plays Chief Pilot Ray Gaines of the L.A. Fire Department, and as we establish in an opening canyon rescue sequence, he is the best there is at flying choppers and saving lives.
But then a curious thing happens: a rolling wave of dire earthquakes start shaking California to bits, and Ray's first instinct is... to abandon his duties and go rescue his ex-wife and teen daughter instead!
That's right, he flies off in an expensive rescue helicopter that could be saving a bunch of people's lives, and instead rescues his ex-sweetie (Carla Gugino) off the top of a collapsing skyscraper. All the other people in that building trying to survive? Screw them!
Then they fly the chopper for hours north to San Francisco to rescue their daughter. It sputters out, so along the way they also have to steal a truck, a plane and a boat to continue their journey. At no point do they take the initiative to stop and save anyone else. They fly over an inferno of fires, looting and human degradation and Ray looks down and says, "That's Bakersfield," as if that explains everything.
So just so we're all clear, this is a movie about a heroic, superhuman fire/rescue guy who, when the shit really hits the fan, can be totally depended upon to GO AWOL AND OBSTINATELY REFUSE TO DO HIS JOB.
At one point Ray and his wife are cruising through the flooded streets of San Francisco on a boat -- what's an earthquake without a tsunami? -- when they pass by some random guy who also has a boat and is out finding trapped people to rescue. I kept wanting someone to turn to him and say, "Ray, isn't that what YOU'RE supposed to be doing???"
What's really ironic is that the heavy is a super-rich guy (Ioan Gruffudd) who is Ray's ex-wife's new boyfriend, who keeps abandoning people to save his own skin. But if you think about it, that's exactly what Ray does: look after his own personal self-interests rather than working for the greater good. Dang those nefarious 1-percenters.
Alexandra Daddario, with her big blue eyes, copious thigh gap and jiggling assets, plays Blake, who in some geneticist's dream factory is the daughter of Johnson and Gugino. Also tagging along are Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson as a pair of adorable British brothers here to provide classy accents and derring-do. Paul Giamatti plays the scientist, who finds out how to predict earthquakes using "magnetic pole rates," but alas too late to warn anyone.
There are some perilous sequences here and there, often involving people trying to dodge out of the way as buildings collapse around them. The CGI is a bit cut-rate, but gets the job done.
As cinematic fare, "San Andreas" has the same nutritional profile as the stuff out at the concession stand: tasty, empty calories.