"...And Upon This Rock I'll Build My Search."
San Andreas, like Titanic, hits the disaster movie formula just right—have a catastrophic event, but concentrate on just a handful of people. Oh, there are a lot of people in San Andreas. it's just that their roles amount to only a few seconds before we don't care about them anymore. They're basically innocent by-standers caught in the shaking.
Nope the action is extraordinarily focused: it's just Dwayne Johnson's extended-family-by-divorce (Carla Gugino, Ioan Gruffud, Kylie Minogue, Alexandra Daddario), the love interest for Ms. Daddano (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his brother—who fulfills the role of "kid in jeopardy"(Art Parkinson), the folks at CalTech (Paul Giamatti, the handy reporter-expositioner played by Archie Panjabi, and some student-players).
And that's it.*
No, really. That's it. It ain't an all-star cast in line to fall through the cracks, it's basically that clutch of actors doing their best to be interesting...and the rest who get minimal screen time, who are lucky if they last past an edit. If you're going to have a big disaster, best to keep it intimate, I guess.
It's just another day for LAFD Chief Rescue Pilot Raymond Gaines (Johnson**): a blonde in a tank top and tight jeans (Morgan Griffin) has just careened off the freeway (damn kids, texting and driving) and her car is suspended on a tree-limb in a deep and tight gully and it takes some kind of helicopter wizard to get deep enough in the trench to winch her out. Ray's your man. One of the young turks on-board decides she's cute enough to rescue himself but gets himself pinned in the attempt. And (uh-oh) they're running out of gas. So, even though he's the Chief Pilot, Ray does the job himself, grabbing the girl, freeing the turk and whisking them both up to the chopper. Radiant smiles all around.
Hey, we're just getting started. Witty banter post rescue turns into domestic drama/skin shot as Ray cell-talks to daughter Blake (Daddario) sunning herself poolside in a bikini. I have completely forgotten what they talked about. I think it was a bicycle. Now, one could grouse about this (if this male writer weren't so grateful), but there is a general obsession with pulchritude in San Andreas. Now, it is both of the female and male variety, which is damned fair of them. And one would be suspicious of that if the women in this film weren't as capable (and frequently more so) than the men involved (when they are not completely incapacitated, like stuck in the back-seat of a vehicle being crushed by a crumbling garage, for instance). No, Carla Gugino runs like Captain America across calving roof-tops rarely missing a step; Daddario can find emergency supplies at the drop of fire-truck and doesn't even break a sweat when pulling a big shard of glass out of a femoral muscle, and when she runs...whatever else is in the frame becomes irrelevant. And forgotten.
Oh. The bicycle. Back to that. She needs it for going to school in San Francisco, which Ray will be driving her to. Well, that plan collapses when he drives over to his estranged wife's house and finds that boyfriend Daniel (who's moving in) will be doing that. Oops. Somebody forgot to mention that. Poor Ray. His family is starting to split apart.
He thinks HE has problems.
Now, if somebody is taking this too far in any film-scholarly direction, one could say that this is a character set-up of magnification/identification. As his word starts to shatter, Gaea does the same in sympathy. Well, if so, she's overdoing it. Over at CalTech, seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti), who, after giving an alarming lecture in his Earthquake 101 class, is excited to hear that a bunch of "magnetic pulse rates" are "spiking" in Nevada. Road trip! So, he and a research assistant (Will Yun Lee) go to the oh-so-safe location of Hoover Dam to do "spike readings" (to quote any Republican taking money from coal interests or big-oil: "I'm not a scientist, so I really can't say...") with Giamatti safely on top of the dam and the disposable minority actor deep in some dam bowel of the thing. Things get spiky, then shaky, and ...oh no!
|This might be from Superman, the Movie, come to think of it...
|"So...WHEN did you say it was going to happen again?"
And falling over.
Yowtch. These are the scenes we came to see—wholesale CGI destruction on a city-wide scale along with the resulting tsunami's, flooding and sinking buildings. And to insure the thing gets a PG-13 rating, we don't see that many people getting hurt. You know, they run out the exit door and the person following them sees that (woopsy) the next step is 40 floors down. Buildings calve on-camera. People die off-camera. Just like real life. The scenes are spectacular, sure. But, they are also soulless to anyone without an Edifice Complex.
|"Think Blake's in there?" "Hope not."
|The "Hollywood" sign collapses for the umpteenth time in movies.
|An extreme way to handle Norovirus...
|"And I bought this place for the view..."
** An odd thought struck me in this particular performance: Johnson could be the love-child of Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger (With Schwarzenegger, you never know...)
|Well, this'll solve California's water shortage