Wednesday, November 1, 2017

#2,450. San Andreas (2015)

Directed By: Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario

Tag line: "Where will you be. Who will you be with"

Trivia: A large amount of the film was shot in and around Brisbane, Australia

I love disaster films, and not just the '70s “classics” (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake); I enjoy modern disaster flicks as well, like Volcano, The Day After Tomorrow, The Core, and 2012

No, I can’t really defend them. Volcano is ridiculously improbable; The Day After Tomorrow has some awful dialogue; and the “science” behind The Core is so ludicrous it would make a 5th grader burst out laughing. Yet there’s something about cinematic destruction on a mass scale – an entire city reduced to rubble on-screen in the span of a couple of hours – that I find endlessly entertaining.

So, while I’ll be the first to admit that 2015’s San Andreas doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and features moments so outlandishly over-the-top they make Independence Day look subtle by comparison, I still had a great time watching it!

Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is an L.A. helicopter pilot with 600 documented rescues to his name. Unfortunately, the one thing he wasn’t able to save was his marriage; Ray’s wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has filed for divorce, and is about to move in with her new boyfriend, millionaire Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd).

As Ray is preparing to lead his team into Nevada, which a short time earlier was rocked by a major earthquake (one that completely destroyed the Hoover Dam), Los Angeles itself is hit with a quake measuring over 9 on the Richter Scale. Ray, already in the air when the tremors started, manages to rescue Emma, who was in the city having lunch with Daniel’s sister Susan (Kylie Minough).

But according to Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), a Seismology professor at Caltech, the L.A. earthquake was just a precursor of things to come. Hayes, who developed a system that can predict when an earthquake will strike, reports that the San Andreas Fault line has shifted, and if his information is accurate, San Francisco, already heavily damaged by the tremors that shook L.A., will soon experience what could potentially be the largest earthquake ever recorded.

In an effort to save their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), who flew to San Francisco earlier that morning, Ray and Emma head north, while Blake and her two new friends, brothers Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson), make their way to higher ground. But with a few hundred miles between them, Ray knows there’s a good chance he won’t arrive in Frisco before the next quake hits, and he hopes that his daughter will somehow survive what is shaping up to be the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Like many of the films that preceded it (including The Day After Tomorrow and 2012), San Andreas uses widespread destruction as a backdrop for the personal dramas affecting its main characters; as Ray is rescuing Emma from the roof of a high-rise building (an admittedly tense scene), one skyscraper after another topples over behind them, killing what we assume must be tens of thousands of people in a matter of seconds. Still, we breathe a sigh of relief when Emma climbs aboard the ‘copter and is no longer in harm’s way (hey, someone has to survive, right?).

Director Brad Peyton and writer Carlton Cuse even try tugging at our heartstrings a little, when Ray and Emma discuss the tragic death of their other daughter Mallory (played in flashbacks by Arabella Morton), the very event that triggered the trouble in their marriage. So, while millions of Californians are struggling to stay alive, we can at least take comfort in the fact that Ray and Emma are finally communicating.

Yes, it’s all quite silly, but to be honest I didn’t pop the Blu-Ray for San Andreas into the player to see two people rekindle their love for one another; it is chaos and mayhem I was after, and this movie has plenty of both. After kicking the film off with an exciting (and highly implausible) rescue mission, in which Ray and his crew attempt to save a girl (Morgan Griffin) whose vehicle went over the side of a cliff, San Andreas starts wrecking things, beginning with Hoover Dam (an impressive sequence) before moving on to L.A. (an even better one). 

But it’s in San Francisco that stuff really starts to get dicey, resulting in an entire second half that is non-stop action. Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast do manage to make us care about their characters, but the real stars of San Andreas are its special effects, all of which do their part to convince us that California has been virtually destroyed.

As with some of the millennium’s other disaster flicks, San Andreas is a hard film to defend. I’m sure a good many of you will find the movie laughable, and perhaps even a little insulting, but San Andreas delivered everything I hoped it would, so I’m happy with it. 

There’s even talk of getting the gang back together for San Andreas 2, and while I admit that I rolled my eyes a little when I heard the news, odds are I’ll be one of the first in line the moment this sequel hits theaters.

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