‘Sadly not Grand Theft Auto: The Rumblings of Big Smoke’
Ah finally. If there was any doubt we’re into summer blockbuster season, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is back on his own and trying to pretend he’s a solo box office attraction in the 2010’s again. Cute. This time, he doesn’t have the luxury of showing off his wonder bod as he zips up into a flight suit and has a sad whilst California goes to hell via that most pesky of all disaster movie tropes – Earthquakes.
Chief Ray Gaines (Johnson, Furious 7) is an ex-army and current LA Fire Department helicopter pilot in charge of his own elite rescue team. He’s still getting over the collapse of his marriage to Emma (Carla Gugino, Wayward Pines) after the accidental death of his drowned younger daughter. Whilst he’s dealing with that, on the other side of California, a seismologist (Paul Giamatti, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) manages to invent an earthquake detector which is handy as the San Andreas fault decides to kick off, causing massive quakes and damage across the state. The tremors begin to spike and the various earthquakes catch up to Ray’s older daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario, True Detective). Ray rushes off to save her and it all builds to a head with a super earthquake due to hit San Francisco…
Considering this is a movie that lives and dies on how great it’s disaster sequences are, San Andreas flubs it’s lines – sort of. Not due to the various earthquakes and tsunamis visuals per se, but rather to the average CGI for a start. It’s okay and you can see clearly what’s going on (a bonus), yet it appears to be in a colour filter which enhances how fake it looks. What’s worse is that pretty much all the film is in CG with next to no practical scenes. Of course, I’m not dumb enough to consider that filmmakers go hang around the San Andreas fault and give it a poke for footage but even then you want something to ground you to make you believe that some of this movie is real. I mean, I was second guessing whether the flying helicopter and airplane scenes were properly shot or more CG. Doesn’t help that the movie comes across as a $100 million school infomercial on what to do if you’re caught in an earthquake either with how to save someone from a crushed car or where to go if one hits.
Whilst the disaster moments are pretty sweet to watch with some awesomely horrific visuals – the various skyscrapers collapsing, falling down & apart and what lies on top of that tsunami wave never leave you bored – there is no discernable difference between the supposedly ‘earth shattering’ mega-quake we’ve been building up to in San Fran and the big one we get in L.A. Absolutely nothing. No tricks of shaking the camera a bit harder to show it’s ferocity. No instant levelling of buildings since they’re not earthquake-proof to that degree. Not that you’ll think too much about it when all the glorious carnage is ripping across the screen. Seeing the Hoover Dam getting wrecked to kick it all off was pretty sweet and the dial is just continuously turned up from there, to when the tsunami hits with Ray piloting his speedboat at a 90 degree angle. If you leave your disbelief outside the cinema for a couple hours, you will be massively entertained by the disasteriffic dialling up to 11 San Andreas offers in a rushed but attention-grabbing 120 odd minutes. I think the location of San Fran is pretty tired in the disaster genre now but I’m willing to let it slide once since it’s been a good while since we have seen it. I’m bored whitless of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge being interfered with time & time again though and wish there was a Chinese style blanket broadcasting ban from displaying it in movies for a good twenty years.
A maddening factor is that there’s a ridiculously great cast, filled with tonnes of “oh it’s whathisname from that thing I watch!” people from TV and film, and they’re just given nothing or sod all screen time and moments. The inconsistency of these extended cameos beggars belief. It ranges from Ioan Gruffudd (Forever) as Emma’s new boyfriend Daniel who goes on a ‘coward get his comeuppance’ character arc speaking ten lines total to Aussie actress turned popstar Kylie Minogue turning up as Daniel’s sister for a quick cameo death. Hell, San Andreas makes a big bloody point at the start of introducing Ray’s team in a preliminary warm up rescue before events occur – and they’re never seen again. That’s it. Gone. Five minutes and done. Nice day working on set with The Rock. Sweet paycheque too. Still I can’t blame the likes of Arrow’s Colton Haynes for taking work like this, promised the world being in a blockbuster with Johnson and it just piddling away. Whoever comes onto screen next on the revolving door is half guaranteed to do something I guess. That something won’t count for much in the grand scheme of San Andreas sadly in serviceable but forgettable roles. Shame because I could have watched a bit more of people like Giamatti speaking earthquake or moping about his dead mate.
Since the film is portrayed as super serious and does not seem to embrace it’s absurdity, it leads to unintentional comedy. I mean, in possibly the worst day for anyone ever to rival John McClane, Blake has to cope with a crushed leg in a car (she heals fine despite being trapped for a good 15 minutes), the super earthquake, a tsunami and surviving being trapped underwater with next to no damage. People die awesomely in wonderful ways and you hear the only audible to dogs inclusion of the ‘Wah wah waaaaah’ sound effect when moments like Minogue runs through an Exit Door only to be found two seconds later falling to her death because that part of the building has collapsed. The highpoint is when Daniel leaves Blake to die and having got wind of this Emma leaves an answerphone message about coming to find him and kill him if he’s not already dead. I loved the ridiculous attitude of Ray – having heard of the LA quake and Emma trapped in one of the buildings, he goes and rescues her… and only her, completely giving no fucks to any of the other poor sods caught up in a massive death tremor. Tremendous. The whole ‘Ray redeems himself after his younger daughter drowns’ angle brings canyons of melodrama which are comedy gold as Johnson takes it all rather seriously when he realises it’s the only chance he has of doing some emotive acting in this movie. He’s fine but completely unnecessary and comes across as a straight parody.
Make no mistake brothers and sisters, this is NOT a great movie – but you know what, that’s fine. I did not expect this to be high art or anything of the sort and thus was not disappointed. I was most definitely entertained. I mean, it has Johnson being melodramatic and trying to act like a dad who has lost a daughter. That’s worth the cost of a ticket alone. For everyone not as pretend hipster as me, there are okay looking CGI destruction fests going on which are worth seeing once and once only. San Andreas manages to add melodrama to the tired & stretched disaster movie formula and doesn’t quite get itself to ‘so bad it’s good’ levels. More like ‘so average it’s endearing’. But sod it, it’s The Rock taking on a goddamn super earthquake and is that worth watching? Yeah just about.