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San Andreas Review: The Rock Delivers Big, Dumb Disaster Fun

By Julian Roman — May 29th, 2015

San Andreas is exactly what you expect, a big, schlocky disaster film with a hardscrabble family at the center. It's entirely formulaic with no surprises, but sometimes that's not a bad thing. The beauty of popcorn cinema is checking your brain at the door, strapping on your 3D glasses, and watching hundreds of CGI buildings topple like Legos. The screenplay by Carlton Cuse sticks like glue to the classic ten pages and a bang blueprint. Every time San Andreas gets hokey, something gets epically destroyed to keep your attention. It doesn't nearly reach the glorious action heights of Mad Max: Fury Road, but is gentle enough an experience that an entire family can enjoy...As long as they're not too concerned with story or realism.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Ray, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot. He's about to take his daughter (Blake), Alexandra Daddario - still smoldering from her stint on True Detective, to college when an earthquake turns the Hoover Dam into rubble. A scientist - Paul Giamatti, studying the tremors at the dam collapse, realizes that this maybe California's long overdue seismic disaster. Meanwhile, Ray's soon to be ex-wife - Carla Gugino, heads to meet the sister of her new boyfriend - Ioan Gruffudd. He's kindly taken over the father duties and is taking Blake to school in San Francisco. As the San Andreas fault begins to shake, Ray races against time and nature to save his family.

This is an effects movie, pure and simple. The story is just fodder for the carnage. The good news is that the sound and visual effects are top notch. I was worried the film would look like a CGI video game, but the filmmakers did an excellent job with the rendering, compositing, and lighting. I have no doubt that if Los Angeles and San Francisco were leveled by the big one, it would look exactly like this. The price of the 3D admission is totally worth it to get your summer disaster fix.

There's a lot of sappy, ludicrous melodrama in the plot. Ray and his wife are getting a divorce. They're all damaged from the death of another child. The new boyfriend is the textbook jerk. It's all very silly and overdone. That said, it's not terrible enough to kill the movie. Families struggling against the elements, with only their love and grit to survive, that's what movies are all about. I've heard some ho hum complaints and call foul. It's hard to imagine not being entertained by San Andreas.

The good thing about Dwayne Johnson is that he knows what he does well. To his credit, he's developed some range since his wrestling days, but it's the physical presence and machismo that pays the bills. Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario are much more than damsels in distress. They pull off the family struggle through thick and thin. I imagine it must be weird watching this film in California, where an overdue mega-quake is always discussed. Let's pray that art does not imitate life in this case.

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