Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugina, Paul Giamatti
(PG-13, 114 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure
“One man with courage makes a majority.” –Andrew Jackson
It’s summer, and what better way to start it off than a spectacular popcorn flick filled with menace and mayhem. Trade in your school year 3 R’s for these new ones: Romance, Reconciliation, and Revenge.
The key, though, is not to expect too much. It’s almost like what Different Drummer said about the campy Cloverfield in 2007:
“This little tart of a film doesn’t offer anything but a good time, some cheap thrills, and a refreshing change of pace.” Except that San Andreas is certainly not a little tart. It is more like a huge overflowing cream pie of a film, its whipped dome ever threatening to careen overboard.
Like all disaster flicks, this one gives a nod to science. Paul Giamatti plays a Caltech seismologist a lot like Ken Watanabe, who played the Japanese scientist in 2014’s Godzilla, both fine actors wasted in their parts. Although Giamatti is not reduced to pseudo-science gibberish, such as Watanabe’s urging the military to let Godzilla fight the other two mutant monsters, presuming the Godzilla is a primal force of nature sent up from the depths to save mankind, he does offer up some bad science.
Maybe the biggest exaggeration is that the East Coast will feel the California quake, but the whole tsunami thing is way off, too. A land quake cannot create an ocean event, and the tsunami crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge is “a bridge too far,” if you will excuse the pun.
But the film get high praise from seismologists for its accurate emergency instructions, “drop, cover, and hold on.” Which about says it all concerning the scientific depth of the film.
Our disaster flick is also bigger than life. Maybe that’s why the producers had to add the tsunami on top of the earthquake to up the score. They missed the international elements of Godzilla, though, who came rampaging into theaters chewing up the scenery as well as considerable portions of Japan, Honolulu, and the streets of San Francisco.
And if we are going for big, how can you compete with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the lead? That square jaw and muscled torso leave 2012’s bookish John Cusak and I Am Legend’s melancholy Will Smith in the dust.
Our third disaster flick ingredient is crumbling icons. Who could forget that scene in Charlton Heston’s original Planet of the Apes when he finds the statue of Liberty prone on the beach? Of course, not to be outdone, that little tart of a film, Cloverfield has Lady Liberty's head drop from the sky. San Andreas triples the ante, with the Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Queen Mary crumbling on the big screen.
In the first decade of the 21st century it was New York that bore the brunt of cinematic destruction:
For a time after the horrible events of 9-11, New York City was as sacrosanct as an invalid recovering from a malignancy in front of whom the C word was never used. It is probably a barometer of the relative safety we now, -- I fear unrealistically -- feel that the Big Apple can’t seem to catch any breaks as of late. It is, cinematically, at least, open season on New York.
First of all, Jodie Foster returns us to the dark days of vigilante justice in a city teaming with malicious creeps in The Brave One, while the plucky Will Smith (I Am Legend) is the last man standing in a Manhattan crawling with blood sucking zombies. Enchanted has city manholes belching forth a beautiful princess and her prince charming, but the evil queen as well, who easily morphs into a glittering dragon terrifying us again atop the Empire State Building, like an enraged King Kong without the soft brown eyes.
Now it is L.A. Well, not just L.A., but the whole California coast, all the way up to San Francisco. The melancholy rendition of California Dreamin’ that accompanies the destruction is a nice touch, too.
Finally, as Different Drummer said about Roland Emmerich’s 2012, “Yes, we are in for some manipulative melodrama, but that's the mother’s milk of disaster flicks, after all.”
It would be cynical, but one might make the case that the whole earthquake tsunami thing seems merely a backdrop for couples therapy and budding romance. Rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), behind the wheel of his helicopter as well as an airplane, truck, and a commandeered speedboat, is intent on saving his about to be ex-wife and daughter. In between his exploits on air, land, and sea, he reconciles with his wife (Carla Gugino), and expunges his guilt over a drowned daughter he could not save by saving the one who is still living. Intrepid daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) leads a handsome Brit (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his brother to safety, charming them and the audience as well with her grace under pressure.
The rich and unctuous real estate developer in the process of sweeping Ray’s ex-wife off her feet gets swept away himself, or maybe it’s crushed. I can’t remember. But that is after showing his true pusillanimous colors when he deserts poor Blake in a trapped car. Even earthquakes have their purpose, one can suppose.
So, get an extra large popcorn and settle in for a pretty good CGI display of California dropping off the edge of the world – almost.
You may be dizzy when you leave the theater, after all that shakin’ goin’ on. Probably the only shaking you will crave after the almost 2 hour earthquake will be of the cocktail variety.
This San Francisco Cocktail, as pretty as it is refreshing, is just the thing to settle your nerves. Cheers.
San Francisco Cocktail Recipe
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
3/4 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz sloe gin
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash bitters
Shake all ingredients (except cherry) with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Add the cherry on top and serve.