'San Andreas' review: Dwayne Johnson's latest will satisfy thrill-seekers
- Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti
- Directed by: Brad Peyton
- Written by: Carlton Cuse
- Duration: 114 minutes
Millions of people die in the gonzo disaster movie San Andreas. But a determined Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is focused on saving the day for his onscreen family, proving once again that blood relations are critical in the midst of a movie disaster. There is no value in just saving strangers in a story like this one.
It is also Johnson, one of the genuine nice guys in the shark-infested world of Hollywood, who gives us the reason to watch Brad Peyton’s earthquake thriller. Impossibly muscle-bound but never even remotely as stupid as the plots of most of his movies, Johnson is a bonafide action hero who makes us feel safe in the middle of chaos and crisis.
In this case, in San Andreas, the crisis is a double whammy of two gigantic earthquakes. They shake up California along the San Andreas Fault. Los Angeles, where Johnson’s estranged movie wife (Carla Gugino) is hanging out, is destroyed in the first wave. Cue the rescue attempt by helicopter, because Johnson plays a first responder copter pilot. San Francisco, where Johnson and Gugino’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario) happens to be with her mom’s new loser boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), is going to get it in the second wave. A tsunami will add to the carnage generated by the earthquakes and their aftershocks. You need a movie hero like Johnson to handle the situation.
The absurdity of San Andreas — the movie and not the fault line — is that Johnson, his family members and two intrepid British friends that Daddario encounters in Frisco repeatedly escape death by split seconds, by millimetres, by a single last breath underwater, by sheer happenstance and by Johnson’s derring-do. He gets to defy logic, laws of gravity and physics and any level of believability to outwit, outrun, outfly and out-whatever everything that comes his way.
The weird thing about it is that we can enjoy it so much, even while masses of ordinary folks — and the occasional cowardly villain — are wiped out in the aftermath of the multiple disasters that earthquakes can cause.
Now is the time for a moment of reflection. The special effects that Canadian-born director Peyton employs are powerful, expensive and relentless. They also suggest what it might have been like, at least in part, for the people of Nepal who have actually had to endure an earthquake double-whammy over the past five weeks. They say that art imitates life but San Andreas is not exactly art and life and death is far more brutal and damaging than images in a movie. Even when they are projected in 3D (although this is your choice, San Andreas is also available in a 2D version).
But we all know that San Andreas is just an entertainment, even with the obvious body count from the ravages of the earthquakes, the collapsing buildings, the fires and the floods. Missing is a rain of frogs.
The plot of San Andreas was concocted by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore and then written up as a screenplay by Carlton Cuse (best known for Lost). Peyton, a native of Gander, N.L., pulled the pieces together for a typical action picture. He obviously has a rapport with Johnson and the other leads, while working equally well with support players such as Paul Giamatti (as the seismologist), Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt and spunky child actor Art Parkinson.
San Andreas does exactly what it set out to do: Satisfy the thrill-seekers with a popcorn movie. If you want something more serious about earthquakes, you have to watch the nightly news.