Wednesday, June 24, 2015

San Andreas

Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?
"...And Upon This Rock I'll Build My Search."

San Andreas, like Titanichits 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.  
"They" say that this is a shot from San Andreas on the Interwebs,
but it's actually from Fast and Furious 6..because 1) that's Gina Carano
(not Carla Gugino, but one can see the confusion..???) next to The Rock and
2) he's not wearing his LAFD helmet (which is why they're using the pic)
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...
Giamatti runs back to CalTech (because that's what you do when you've been in a disaster that has probably closed roads including the one on Hoover Dam that doesn't exist anymore. And he has time enough to speculate to the handy TV reporter (who just happens to be filming there) that "The Big One" is coming, without once recalling Fred Sanford.
"So...WHEN did you say it was going to happen again?"
Back to the San Francisco trip, Ray, who had planned to take Blake, finds out creepy Daniel is taking her, instead. Ray furrows his brow and takes it like a 260 pound man. It turns out he's flying that day, anyway—what, he didn't know he was working?  Good thing, too, because he's the only one with his feet not on the ground when "The Big One" hits. Ray's ex is caught having a high-rise lunch with her future sister-in-law (Minogue), while Blake is cooling her heels in one of Daniel's San-Fran high-rises, passing time with a nervous job interviewee (Johnstone-Burt) and his buttinski little brother (Parkinson). And before you can say "spiking magnetic pulse rates" things start shaking.

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 rest of the movie is spent trying to put together what Nature and family history has rent asunder—Ray and ex try to get from smashed-up Los Angeles to crushed San Francisco to try and find Blake to be re-united as one big happy family...who have to live in a tent for the next twenty years. What do you think happens?
The "Hollywood" sign collapses for the umpteenth time in movies.
In the meantime, there are set-pieces and falling pieces of sets. There are enough practical effects with water that probably are the sole reason for California's drought and anything and everything citified gets smashed, crashed and dashed. Meanwhile, the problems of the Gaines family is all the movie cares about—one gets the impression that the "pitch" says "Family splits apart. Earth splits apart. Family gets back together." "Family Values Movie of the Summer." And California? Well, let's say we can start re-developing. The rental prices have finally bottomed out.
An extreme way to handle Norovirus...
The whole Gaines family story-line would have made a mere sub-plot in the old disaster movies of old—the The Hurricane's, the San Francisco's, even The Towering Inferno's. Those movies usually handled the entire of San Andreas' entire plot in a couple of shots—you see a distinctive couple early on and then several story-lines  and a whole lot of destruction later, you can pick them out re-united in a pan shot. But, it takes all of San Andreas to do that. Yes, the shots of earthquackery in both Los Angeles and San Francisco are spectacularly and even (perversely) lovingly rendered in their detail, and that's where the most care went into the film. Other than that, there's not much there, as the basis of it is pretty weak. But isn't that the lesson of every earthquake movie (or, for that matter, earthquake)? That you need to have a better foundation? 
"And I bought this place for the view..."
* Um, but if you look at IMDB, you'd think every actor in Hollywood worked on this thing. Yeah, maybe a couple hours.  It makes me wonder how many people on IMDB pad their resumes with this thing.

** 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

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