The Ninjabot

Film Review: SAN ANDREAS- Where THE ROCK Punches an Earthquake!

Posted on May 28, 2015 at 12:48 pm by Dylan Reynolds

San_Andreas_posterYes folks, you read that right, SAN ANDREAS is the movie where we finally get to see the Rock punch an earthquake…

Is what I wish I could say happens in this flick- but sadly- we will have to wait a little longer before a visionary filmmaker comes along and gives audiences what they really want out of their Dwayne Johnson earthquake movies. I guess at one point Mr. Johnson does punch a looter jacking some plasma TVs or whatever- but overall The Rock is going for a more nuanced bad ass vs. the uber macho sweaty behemoth we’ve grown to know and love in the Fast & Furious movies.

As you probably know (if this movie is at all on your radar) SAN ANDREAS is a disaster flick (or what some would call “destruction porn”)- a genre that had its true “Golden Age” in the 1970s- which began with the release of AIRPORT (’70), then producer Irwin Allen (dubbed the “Master of Disaster”) unleashed the mega hits POSEIDON ADVENTURE (’72) and TOWERING INFERNO (’74), which were then quickly followed by another rousing financial success in EARTHQUAKE (’74).


Many imitators followed before the genre petered off towards the end of the decade when Jaws/ Star Wars evolved the concept of the “Hollywood Blockbuster”. The genre remained dormant for a couple decades before being resurrected again in the 90s when advances in CGI made the creation of wanton mayhem and destruction all the more feasible. This “new generation” of disaster movie produced such would-be blockbusters like the various Dean Devlin/ Roland Emmerich epics (INDEPENDENCE DAY, DAY AFTER TOMORROW, 2012), and other critically derided flicks like THE CORE, DEEP IMPACT, DANTE’S PEAK, DAYLIGHT, VOLCANO, ARMAGEDDON, and TWISTER.


SAN ANDREAS seems very aware of these films and the genre in which it belongs. And since the disaster film is one of the most stringent plot structures besides the slasher film- it follows the formula established in these movies nearly beat for beat:

Act 1- With almost every disaster movie you have an A-list Actor (or an ensemble) collecting a 342180paycheck engaging in a “Soap Opera- level” plot while an exposition-heavy scientist warns of a looming catastrophe.

In the case of SAN ANDREAS- a helicopter rescue pilot named Dwayne Johnson (played by Dwayne Johnson) is doing what he does best by taking risks and saving lives- cause he’s that kind of guy. But life isn’t so great for our beefy hero because his estranged wife has sent him divorce papers and his daughter is leaving for college. To add insult to injury he finds out that his wife is officially moving in with her D-bag boyfriend architect who is stupid rich. But Mr. Johnson is a solid kind of dude- so he takes it all in stride.

Meanwhile- over at Caltech Professor Paul Giamatti has been trying to figure out a way to predict earthquakes. His studies have alerted him to a possible new fault line in Nevada- &MaxW=640&imageVersion=default&AR-150529081where his readings go crazy right as a quake hits and takes out the Hoover Dam. Giamatti returns to his lab and after studying more seismic readings he begins spouting a bunch of pseudo-science… The bottom line of which is that the entire San Andreas fault line is about to erupt and cause a series of massive earthquakes up and down the West Coast.

Since he is the “best of the best” Mr. Johnson is called off to Nevada to help in the recue efforts. Which is a bummer because it means he won’t be able to help his daughter move into her college dorm. Instead- the architect boyfriend takes her with him to San Francisco where he is building “the city’s tallest skyscraper” (which I think is a TOWERING INFERNO reference).

After this prolonged set up- Act 2 is where we are treated to an extended special effects-laden sequence of the disaster itself with grumbling buildings and hundreds/ thousands/ millions of San-Andreas-Official-Trailer-2-3people dying amongst the “bloodless PG-13” mayhem. This ladies and gentlemen- is our “destruction porn”.

Any disaster flick worth half their salt will deliver its most memorable images and sequences in this part of the movie. SAN ANDREAS is no different and even though there’s plenty of “unconvincing” CGI- there’s a lot of it and it’s way “over the top” and hence (for the most part) a lot of fun. The issue with these movies isn’t the action- it’s when the characters open their mouths. Which brings us to…

Act 3 details the aftermath of the disaster and the attempts of our heroes surviving and/ or escaping from the imminent danger. Along the way there’s oodles of melodrama and the “Soap Opera” sub plots are resolved between the cliffhanger action sequences.

sanandreas0005With SAN ANDREAS a major earthquake decimates Los Angeles and Mr. Johnson saves his wife from a collapsing Downtown building in his trusty helicopter (he conveniently happens to be air born when the disaster occurs). The reverberations go all the way up to San Francisco- where more buildings collapse and his daughter gets trapped in a parking structure after the wife’s A-hole new boyfriend abandons her. Luckily a random British hunk she had met earlier and his precocious younger brother come along to save her.

But they aren’t out of danger yet because Professor Giamatti goes on TV and announces that an even BIGGER earthquake will soon hit San Francisco and everyone must get out of the city. It is up to Dwayne and his wife as they literally take to land, air and sea to rescue their daughter. And as structurally mandated- two parallel love stories develop: Mr. Johnson and his Wife work through their issues and rekindle their marriage and the daughter and British hunk have a blooming romance.

maxresdefaultAs I alluded to above- when there aren’t skyscrapers toppling over or tsunamis wiping out the Golden Gate Bridge the “human moments” land with a thud. With SAN ANDREAS I wouldn’t go as far to say it stops the movie dead in its tracks- but it definitely plods along during these dramatic interludes. But it’s no worse than other movies in the disaster genre and for me it didn’t distract from the action too much.

And we all know Dwayne Johnson is not a great actor- but he is a charming and relatable performer who is infectiously watchable in most everything he does. And a little Rock goes a long way and this movie seems to understand that. The rest of the performances basically range from serviceable to inconsequential. Of course the cliché riddled one-liner heavy script doesn’t do anyone any favors in this regard. And its readily apparent that the director Brad Peyton– who’s had previous experience making kids movies like JOURNEY 2 and CATS & DOGS 2: RETURN OF KITTY GALORE- really spoons feeds both the exposition and drama like he’s still making movies for eight year olds.

The result of which makes for more than a few unintentionally “laugh out loud” moments. Especially in the Paul Giammitti scenes where his dire warnings of Armageddon can almost be punctuated with a DUN-DUN-DUUUUN!!! music cue:

The narrative also has a weird “how to survive an earthquake” check list- so I guess if and when a big quake happens (knock on wood) I’ll hopefully remember a couple of the “tips” from this movie. And continuing with the directors heavy-handed brush it’s also an awkward “important message movie”- with some shout outs to the “real life heroes” of Fire & Rescue crews and even works in a ‘Merica fuck yeah! moment at the end of the film.

All of this does nothing more than to add to the camp level of the movie that I’m pretty sure wasn’t intentional. But it hits on so many of these clichés that it would really just need a maxresdefault-1couple nudges here and there before becoming a full on parody of itself. But SAN ANDREAS isn’t “smart” enough and is more than content to be the big dumb movie that it is.

And so help me- I couldn’t help but enjoy this flick for all its ridiculousness. Yes- it’s a “bad movie” but we all knew that even before the first trailer came out. But I found myself being engaged and invested with what happened. Yes- I never doubted for a second that the Rock wouldn’t be able to save his daughter- but the point of these movies is of course not the plot or dialogue- because by design they are both going to be awful. The true measure of a disaster film is if it it’s a fun roller coaster ride and I think SAN ANDREAS accomplishes exactly what it set out to do.

But is it worth your 15 bucks? Probably not- but at the same time I think a viewing on DVD would only bring out the film’s weaker points and thus be a waste of time. It’s the spectacle (sound and digital effects) that are the true selling points. So I would wait a couple months and watch it on a lazy afternoon at a discount/ 3-dollar theater somewhere. This is the kind of movie that is perfect for that type of scenario… just dial down the expectations and you should be just fine.

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