“San Andreas” Review (Spoiler-Free)

san andreas

My mom and I decided to take an impromptu trip to the movies today. Given how movie theaters up here are still aiming to bring in the post-supper crowd before summer hits, my mom and I had two options that fit our time frame: “Aloha”, a rom-com with Bradley Cooper, or “San Andreas”, a disaster flick with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Having known nothing about these movies until viewing their trailers today, I figured an action film was the more interesting option. And while I can’t say for sure if I’m right or wrong about that, I WILL say that this one’s…pretty much forgettable.

The plot goes like this: Dwayne is Ray, an LA firefighter who regularly rescues people via helicopter and such. Ray’s going through a divorce and is feeling estranged from his wife, Emma, and daughter, Blake. But when a seismologist played by Paul Giamatti discovers that California’s San Andreas fault line is starting to collapse, Ray is forced to jump into action to rescue Emma and later Blake before San Francisco falls.

The first thing that went through my head, aside from how the first character we see onscreen is such an idiotic driver, was how much like Roland Emmerich’s films this seems like. It’s easily the most Emmerich film I’ve seen that isn’t directed by Emmerich. For starters, you get some splices here and there to get a sense of the carnage and death happening, mostly thanks to some decent acting once in a while, but the death toll never really hits home all that much. All of the characters come across cookie-cutter and a bit two dimensional, and some are barely seen before they’re unceremoniously killed off. I will give the director some credit, though, in that he contains his central cast to a minimal amount, making it easier to follow them and attempt to care (though again, cookie-cutter).

Most of the acting here ranges from okay to bad, with my personal good highlights being Dwayne and Paul’s performances. I felt like out of everyone they were trying the hardest, though I did also find myself actually enjoying the one kid character, Ollie, as well (I usually find child actors annoying). Carla Gugino had a good moment here or there, but most of the time I felt unattached to her character. But unfortunately, I just felt all of these talented actors (including poor Ioan Gruffudd – he can’t catch a break here) were wasted. It’s a shame, because I wanted to like these characters so much more.

The biggest sin is that the writing overall is just…bland. Not only does it create cookie-cutter characters, but the plot hits the usual disaster movie cliches (although it’s lessened slightly by focusing mainly on earthquakes) as well as standard “save so-and-so” cliches. It didn’t make it hard to watch or even overly boring, but I could easily predict where the plot was going (for what’s there) and how some scenes would play out. Again, though, some credit is due: I kept expecting certain characters to die and more often than not it didn’t happen. The director at least had the sense to not go death-crazy to try to keep us invested in their plight. There’s even a nice moment near the ending that depicts rescue teams piling into San Francisco, though it’s immediately made incredibly ham-fisted and cheesy by the ending itself.

So, if the plot, characters and cliches are all standard disaster fare, was there anything I took away from the movie that I liked aside from the occasional performance? Well… The biggest highlight of the movie is by far the effects. You almost feel at times that you’re at ground level and dealing with the quakes, and the destruction would easily make Emmerich proud. It looks gorgeous and the action scenes were easy to follow and kept the pace moving along well enough, which only seemed to slow down during a lot of the more talky scenes. My only issue on a technical level is the version we saw. In our theater, we experienced what’s called UltraAVX 3D, which is basically a theater with a huge screen, top-notch sound system, comfy-ish leather chairs, and of course 3D tech. While the screen lent to the disaster scenes and the sound as well, I hardly noticed any 3D. My mom even agreed with me that it was very lackluster. Don’t waste your money on the 3D if possible.

Overall, “San Andreas” was, like I said, a forgettable movie. It’s sad that a lot of that can be contributed to the cliche script and characters, especially when the action scenes were easily the most entertaining part. I feel hard-pressed to recommend it to the average movie-goer, but if you like dumb disaster films, this is slightly above the usual Emmerich fare. Go in for the destruction and that’s pretty much it.

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