San Andreas

‘It’s big, it’s dumb, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and exactly what you’d expect it to be’ – MacDara Conroy on disaster epic San Andreas

If there’s an upside to San Andreas being released in the wake of the Greatest Action Movie Of All Time (AKA Mad Mad: Fury Road), it’s that it doesn’t come overburdened with the same weight of expectations, whether as a quasi-feminist tract or an off-the-wall crazy dystopian spectacle. If anything, this old-school, high-concept blockbuster (elevator pitch: The Rock versus an earthquake) is that film’s complete opposite, both intellectually and conceptually. It’s big, it’s dumb, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and exactly what you’d expect it to be.

I mean, I could sit here all day listing all the things that are ostensibly ‘wrong’ with it. Granted, it’s basically a clip show of disaster movie clichés. Dams burst and buildings crumble as superstar pro wrestler turned competent movie guy Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, whose character sports the improbably white-bread name Ray Gaines, takes off in his LAFD rescue chopper to pluck his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and not-yet-old-enough-to-drink daughter (29-year-old Alexandra Daddario) from the mayhem below as the ‘Big One’ tears up most of California and surrounds. Meanwhile the boffins, led by nerd-for-hire Paul Giamatti, crunch the numbers and strive to warn the world of the increasing dangers that lie ahead, tossing around outdated but science-y sounding terms like ‘Richter scale’. Yep.

The first half hour goes out of its way to split the leads apart for the inevitable heroic round-up, which also gives us the B-story as resourceful Daddario, seemingly abandoned in San Francisco by her only vaguely villainous future stepfather Ioan Griffud, teams up with a pair of impossibly plummy British brothers (Aussie actor Hugo Johnstone-Burt and precocious Donegal lad Art Parkinson) to seek rescue from the stupendous CGI carnage, lashing on one calamitous crisis after another: a collapsing skyscraper here, a tsunami there. Have the main protagonists get around by means of the most blatant plot conveniences, throw in a few red-herring Chekov’s guns, indeed give up on the plot making much sense at all under close scrutiny (characters drift in and out at random or as needed, and some of the leads don’t even meet!) and you’ve got a recipe for a disaster of epic proportions, right?

Actually, these failings really take nothing away from San Andreas, and may even add to its ridiculous charm. And the epicentre of that charm offensive is Johnson himself: he’s stupefyingly charismatic – but you knew that already – and that he mostly deadpans it throughout the movie makes you love him even more. Who gives a shit that he’s a dangerous flyboy trying tricks that would give any real rescue pilot a coronary? Why question the notion that he basically abandons his first-responder responsibilities to go rescue his wife and daughter amid the most destructive natural disaster America has ever known?

It’s a lot like Johnson’s old business of wrestling: you’ve got to suspend disbelief, check reality at the door and just accept that The Rock can fly a rescue chopper solo wherever he damn well pleases, just because. There’s a real sense that director Brad Peyton (reuniting with Johnson after kids’ adventure Journey 2) and writer Carlton Cuse (co-creator of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr) are working on two levels here, with a subtle parodic twist running beneath the bombast, but that’s by no means a gag at the expense of the mass audiences who by right should be flooding to this flick in their droves. It’s just a little something extra to make the big kid in you and me smile and laugh with glee as The Rock drops his People’s Elbow on the San Andreas Fault.

San Andreas opened nationwide in 3D and 2D on Thursday May 28th

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