In my family, we created a term called "the perfect HBO movie." The qualifications are- it has to be dumb, it has to have a terrible script, it has to be overrun by a ridiculous amount of CGI, and it has to be entertaining. For my dad and brother, this category would include films like Battleship and Cowboys and Aliens. For me, I would put in 300: Rise of an Empire and the G.I. Joe franchise. San Andreas is the perfect HBO movie. This visual effects driven symphony is marred by an atrocious screenplay, a bevy of laughable moments and some truly idiotic character development, yet ultimately, is still a highly entertaining film at times. The disaster scenes are appropriately epic and the film is professionally made by Brad Peyton, with a superstar performance from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. It's certainly not a good movie, but there's enough fun to be had with San Andreas to warrant a viewing at some point.
Chief Raymond Gaines (Johnson) is one of the Los Angeles Fire Department's most prolific rescue pilots, documenting over 600 rescues in Los Angeles and Afghanistan. But he also has a struggling family life- his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), is requesting a divorce and moving in with her boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), while their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) is caught in the middle. Gaines is pulled apart from his family and despite his constant heroism in the field, his life is becoming a bit difficult.
However, life as the world knows it changes when a big Earthquake hits the Hoover Dam, destroying the dam completely and killing one of the world's premiere seismologists. His partner, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), sees something more terrifying with the quake and he believes that the entire San Andreas fault could go off. Of course, it does eventually and all sorts of disaster related mayhem ensues. After daringly rescuing Emma in Los Angeles, Ray teams up with her to fly to San Francisco to save their daughter as the world collapses around them.
I think I might have laughed in San Andreas as much as I did in Spy. That's nothing against Melissa McCarthy's truly hysterical special agent comedy (it's one of the best films of the year so far)- it just shows how freakin' ridiculous San Andreas is. Cheesy dialogue, cliched characters and some laughable disaster scenes flow throughout San Andreas to the point where I was audibly laughing in the theater. But that's not to say that this is a bad movie. Entertaining and slickly made to a fault, San Andreas will entertain its target audience and maybe even a few other people thanks to the movie-star charm of Dwayne Johnson. It's a rather forgettable flick, but there's a little bit of summer fun to be had with San Andreas.
The one thing about movies like this that I love is that they always feature good actors saying really, really dumb lines. San Andreas is no exception. The Rock does his usual stuff, but Paul Giamatti and Carla Gugino get some of the worst of the script. It doesn't help that screenwriters Carlton Cuse, Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore pump the script with as many absurd, disaster movie cliches as possible. Lost daughter, dead daughter, evil step dad, divorced couple- this feels like a rehash of 2012 restricted to the state of California.
The screenplay is atrocious, but I feel like director Brad Peyton tried to inject this movie with as much of a sense of fun as possible. The disaster scenes are big and absurd, and there were some moments that I thought were simply hysterical. Here's a few:
-A woman drives a car off a cliff, flips it like ten times and survives.
-Giant pieces of concrete fall on people and smash them to smithereens.
-In a restaurant, a chef runs out on fire, screaming. It's horrifically amusing.
-A giant battleship rises above the ocean and crashes through 2 skyscrapers.
There is more hilarious content to be found in San Andreas, but those were the examples that stuck out to me. The film constructs this serious tone, yet it's so rampantly over-the-top that it's funny. Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast try to keep a straight face through all of the laughable moments and they carry the film at times. However, other times feature some truly awful acting and even charismatic actors like Johnson and Gugino can't carry this film past mediocrity.
The disaster scenes and visual effects are appropriately massive, with giant cracks in the ground, huge tsunamis, big buildings falling, and more of the usual disaster stuff. The film is filled with all sorts of CGI and I sincerely doubt that many of the effects were done practically. In fact, the most thrilling scenes are a parachute scene in the middle of San Francisco and the daring rescue that begins the movie- the only scenes that might have been done practically. But for the most part, I was incredibly impressed by the CGI and the glossy look of the film.
In all honesty, I don't have too much more to say about San Andreas. It's a fun movie. Nothing more. Nothing less. The script is horrific and the cliches run rampant throughout, but there's enough disastrous action of epic proportions to go around. It's not one of the most memorable films of the year and you definitely have to know what you're getting into with this movie, but amid all of its flaws, San Andreas is a decently entertaining film.
THE FINAL GRADE: C+ (6.4/10)
Image Credits: Deadline, Huffington Post, Deadline, Variety