I love disaster movies. The bigger the better. I’ve grown up with disaster movies, like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, Airport ’77, and even more recent Roland Emmerich films like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. There’s something inspiring about watching humanity try to overcome an evil so grand that it can take lives and renders our way of life so void in such a flash, that it’s compelling. Unfortunately, in the newest disaster film, San Andreas, that important cog is taken out, ripped away by the film’s villain — Dwayne Johnson’s Ray, an L.A. Fire and rescue helicopter-pilot. That’s right, Dwayne Johnson is the villain in this movie, and any hopes of humanity coming together and overcoming the state of California being ripped in half and then dunked by a huge tsunami is thrown away by one man’s selfish gambit.
The script (originally by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore, yet screenwriting credit goes to late-to-the game polisher, Carlton Cuse) of San Andreas is very cookie cutter. Scientist warns of impending doom, doom hits, man triumphs. Adding to the generic story here are tired tropes as the film opens with a young, stupid — yet hot — blond in distress, who miraculously survives her car going over a cliff and tumbling over and over, even at one point crashing head on with the side of a mountain, only to have the airbag save her life and be left in good enough shape for muscle-bound, charming Ray (Johnson) to save the day when a rescue mission to save her fails.
We learn that Ray has an estranged wife, Emma, (Carla Cugino) and a daughter (Alexandra Daddario) going away to San Francisco to college in a few weeks, though college is already in session apparently at Cal Tech, where seismologist expert Dr. Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) and his assistant, Kim (Will Yun Lee) discover that tremors at the Hoover Dam could prove that their science is sound enough to predict earthquakes. Of course, the dam is then destroyed and Lawrence is trying to tell anyone who will listen that another quake is coming — this time to the San Andreas fault line and California will soon be an archipelago, and Arizona will be beach front property.
Somewhere in here, we also learn that Emma has moved on with a new man, Daniel, (Ioan Gruffudd) and Ray is trying to hold it together just as the big one hits. Los Angeles is reduced to rubble, the fault line splits the length of California all the way to exactly where Ray’s daughter is going in San Francisco. Instead of doing his duty as a member of L.A. Fire and Rescue and actually saving people, and using the resources — like the helicopter he flies, or the muscles and incredible strength he surely possesses after watching him save the hot blond in the opening frames — Ray takes a chopper and his ex-wife and they decide to fly to San Francisco to save his daughter, foregoing his duty as sworn civil servant, and foregoing helping his fellow man.
This is the classic disaster film villain. This is Gene Hackman in The Poseidon Adventure. This is Richard Chamberlain in The Towering Inferno. We’ve been conditioned to hate the selfish person in times of trouble who puts all at risk to save his owns skin or the skin of his family, and here, in San Andreas, he’s celebrated as the “star” and the “hero.” By the middle of the second act, I was rooting for the after shocks and eventual tsunami to win and to wash this terrible person and his equally self-centered family off the face of the earth.
Even Daddrio, as the daughter, Blake, is selfish and vile. She and her two companions (Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson) stop to raid a San Francisco fire truck of much needed supplies on their trek to safety. This isn’t a post-apocalyptic Walking Dead-type world where everything is abandoned. Those firefighters are off saving peoples’ lives, and Blake and her crew are stealing their supplies for their own gain; their own safety. I was appalled at this. Have we really come to the point in our existence where the hope of taking care of our fellow man is completely washed away by the needs of the very few?
All of that aside — if you can put it aside — San Andreas‘ quake effects are breathtaking and very well done. The tsunami is equally impressive and the loss of life and property is staggering. Too bad our villain here was too consumed with his own life to help anyone else.
Director Brad Peyton handles the effects and the destruction well, but he’s hampered by a script that is absolutely awful and not even Dwayne Johnson, who I really like as an actor, and Carla Cugino, who is acting her ass off here, can save the terrible, terrible words that came out of Cuse’s — and presumably Fabrizio and Passmore’s computer. When a film of any kind — disaster, action, comedy, horror, you name it — has a terrible script, nothing can save it. And like the citizens of California, this movie can’t be saved. Here, because someone at Warner Bros. thought that audiences would get behind a man who shrugs off his sworn duty and leaves his city and her people behind to save his “family” would be someone to root for. I didn’t buy it. I was rooting for the quake the entire time.
San Andreas is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.
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