Tony Fyler falls into a big hole in the ground for a few hours.
Gosh darn it, is it big-ass CGI eco-disaster season again already?
After Volcano, and Dante’s Peak, and Armageddon, and Deep Impact, and The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 comes San Andreas, a movie about a big hole in the ground and why The Rock is too damned hard to fall into it.
As big-ass CGI eco-disaster movies go, this one was…OK. There’s a certain amount of plotting-by-numbers at work of course, but then that’s how you make this kind of movie. Here’s The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), as a fire department rescue helicopter pilot with a secret pain. Here he is, proving how good he is, rescuing a young woman who’s accidentally driven into a big sudden hole in the ground. Here’s the wife who’s divorcing his ass because he’s too hard and won’t let her into his secret pain. Here’s their adorable, spunky daughter who loves them both and wants them to get back together. Ohhh, here’s a shot of some divorce papers and Johnson emoting through a vein in his neck. Here’s Ioan Gruffudd, moving in with the wife and getting to know the daughter. Guaranteed to prove to be a douchebag fairly soon, so that the Johnson family can get back together through the medium of massive seismological shifting…
You get the idea?
Here, also, for no readily identifiable reason except presumably the size of the pay cheque, is Paul Giamatti as a Cal-Tech seismologist who works out a way of predicting earthquakes on the very day the San Andreas fault gets all kinds of uppity. Giamatti’s way too good for the role he’s given here, but then again, he appeared as The Rhino in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so clearly, pay cheques are much better down the popcorn-munching end of the market.
Once Giamatti’s appeared, it’s all over bar the cataclysm – Johnson and his wife essentially say a big ‘screw you’ to duty and selflessness and go in search of their daughter in the chaos of falling buildings, tsunamis, and the end of a small chunk of the world. There’s helicopter flying, plane flying, sky diving, nearly driving into another part of the big hole in the ground, walking boldly, and even boat-surfing as they search for the spunky, adorable one.
The spunky, adorable one (Blake, played by Alexandra Daddario) in the meantime has gone off with the wife’s boyfriend to try to come to terms with this douchbag doing her mom. He’s run off, leaving her trapped in a car with a dead guy, and it’s left to an English guy she met earlier that day and his likeable urchin younger brother to rescue her. She returns the favour many times over, rescuing their dumb English asses from an American apocalypse, and making, against all the odds, for a place where her reuniting parents will be able to find her.
It’s hokey fare, all this, but it’s by no means any worse in most respects than any other of the big budget ‘We’re all gonna die! Well, y’know except these people’ movies of recent years.
There is one area though where you have to suspend not just your disbelief but pretty much the rest of your brain too in order to enjoy San Andreas. In the quest to make the peril spectacular and the escapes thrilling, San Andreas demands that Nothing Bad happens to Johnson’s character or his wife. Seriously, they’re in a helicopter and a building is falling down right next to them. Dust in the engine, causing the chopper to fall out of the sky? Not a bit of it, that whirlybird just keeps on whirring. Emma (the wife, played with a more or less reasonable amount of what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here by Carla Gugino) is actually on top of a building when the next building over falls down, massively conveniently right behind her – any dust on her in the very next scene? No chance, she’s got a close-up with The Rock, and he can’t get dust on him. Tidal wave that’s gonna swallow San Francisco - let’s ride a small boat up it and somehow not die!
This lack of actual peril to the people on whom we’re focusing makes the storyline feel awkwardly stage-managed, meaning all the peril to everyone else in California looks like just so much CGI mayhem, and fails to engage our terror instincts, leaving San Andreas feeling relatively lukewarm in the world of big disaster flicks. But if there’s no great ‘Oh my God!’ moment, there are certainly plenty of ‘Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!’ moments, escalations in local terror that do keep you planted in your seat, occasionally twisting to get out of the way of some new huge bummer, from a shard of glass in the leg to a burning city between you and your goal.
Simply put, San Andreas is never going to win any big awards for acting or writing, and nor, to be honest, is it going to particularly wow the effects-junkies. But in terms of a popcorn-munching, date-taking, disengage-your-brain apocalyptic movie, you could do a lot worse this summer.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk