Skip to Content

‘San Andreas’ is a hilariously big disaster

‘San Andreas’ is a hilariously big disaster

San AndreasSanAndreasposter resize

Written by Carlton Cuse
Directed by Brad Peyton
USA, 2015

San Andreas is not a good movie. Let’s get this out of the way right up front. It is a colossal pile of total garbage. It is also a lot of fun. The filmmakers throw so much wholesale destruction at the audience it produces a giddy thrill every time skyscrapers fall like dominoes or the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed by a tsunami. However, amidst the explosions and set pieces there is a woefully predictable and hilarious plot which is lousy with hackneyed dialogue, clichéd characters and old fashioned heteronormative gender roles.

Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a fire and rescue helicopter pilot estranged from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). A mega-earthquake hits California’s San Andreas Fault which takes down Los Angeles, and after a daring escape from a collapsing skyscraper, Ray and Emma must then reconcile their differences in order to rescue Blake from San Francisco where the quake is about to cause widespread destruction. Meanwhile in Caltech, seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) tracks the effects of the devastation and tries to warn the public of the tectonic movement’s apocalyptic proportion.

San-Andreas-2015-5 resize

The enjoyment of San Andreas is two-fold; on the one hand there are some exciting (but slightly repetitive) set-pieces, and on the other hand there is a screenplay which is so terrible it becomes comedic. If cliché arises out of popular opinions that are so overused to the point of triteness, then screenwriter Carlton Cuse (co-creator of Lost) is either monumentally lazy or an absolute genius. The clichés are so obvious and all-encompassing that it boggles the mind that anyone involved was attempting to make anything like a serious film, although there is some earnestness at the heart of the narrative that suggests otherwise, most notably in the character relationships.

While Dwayne Johnson isn’t the world’s best actor, he has charisma and acquits himself well, but the movie really belongs to Daddario as his daughter Blake who, refreshingly, is not the damsel in distress but instead is the hero; employing survival skills to get to higher ground and help hapless architect Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) to safety. While the filmmakers should get credit for portraying a strong female character, it seems like lip service considering that the script forces Blake and Ben to connect romantically (yawn) and the relationship between her parents, while age appropriate, is one of old fashioned patriarchal protection – allusions to Ray being “the rock” in their relationship is mind-blowing in its stupidity.

San-Andreas-daddario resize

Really though, the star of this film is the spectacle. Beginning with the destruction of the Hoover Dam right up to the, well, destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Andreas barely lets up. There are some truly awe-inspiring images of infra-structure collapse, most notably the carnage that follows a giant tsunami hitting San Francisco. Ray and Emma, having crested the enormous wave in their small motorboat must now cruise through the city that has become a post-apocalyptic Venice; one absolutely striking image is of a battleship that hangs upside down through the top floors of a skyscraper. But what are probably the most breath-taking sequences are those showing the earthquake’s movement creating a giant ripple effect that pushes the city structures to their absolute limits and beyond.

San-Andreas-2015-4 resize

San Andreas is definitely a “so-bad-its-good” movie but it is also a demonstration of a Hollywood that is completely out of touch. In a blockbuster season that has so far produced a pretty great superhero team-up sequel in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road, which is probably the greatest action movie of the decade, San Andreas feels almost quaint. Granted, every disaster film needs to hit the same beats and they are enjoyable for it, no one is asking nor expecting for it to be a masterpiece, but at the same time the blockbuster landscape is changing and Cuse and director Brad Peyton are just not trying hard enough and this picture just feels like something from a bygone era. If this were made in the early 2000s it would fit right in but as it stands it is not the robust actioner it hopes it is but a damp squib of a film, which has its moments of excitement but is best enjoyed ironically.

Liam Dunn