Johnson shines in rocky San Andreas
If you've seen the trailer for San Andreas, rest assured you already know exactly what type of film it is. Remember that spate from the late 1990s through the late 2000s when films like The Day After Tomorrow, Volcano, 2012 and Deep Impact were major moneymakers? Yeah… it's one of those sort of things.
And by "those sorts of things," I mean, if you've seen those films, you've seen this one in essence. All the same archetypes, stereotypes and plot elements are here. Where this one may have an edge over what's come before is that it takes a really good cast and treats its characters and situations less cartoonishly.
Remember those scientists in those other movies who figure out what's going on and do their best to issue warnings? In this, that guy is played by Paul Giamatti who, after he loses a partner to a quake that destroys Hoover Dam, figures out with a new earthquake detection technique that the whole San Andreas fault is getting ready to seriously go off.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is the heroic Troubled Family Man, who, when not working as a rescue helicopter pilot in the L.A. area, pines for Estranged Wife (Carla Gugino), more time with Teenage Daughter (Alexandra Daddario) and struggles with his inability to save their other daughter from drowning several years earlier.
Meanwhile, Estranged Wife is in a relationship with Smug Rich Cowardly Bastard (Ioan Gruffudd) who is destined to abandon or betray the family and be served his karmic comeuppance via Dramatic Moment In Disaster Narrative.
After Troubled Family Man and Estranged Wife make up during the destruction of L.A., they head off in his helicopter to save Teenage Daughter in San Francisco. But Well Meaning Doom Saying Scientist figures out it's only a matter of time before San Fran gets hit by the same series of quakes, and thus they wind up heading into another disaster zone in the making.
So, plot-wise, there's not really a lot going on here that isn't a carbon copy of a crapload of other films. That doesn't mean the film is without its merits, though. As would be expected of a film of this type with a $110 million production budget, the visuals can be stunning to say the least. Skyscrapers fall, tracts of cityscape flutter like a blanket spread across a bed and tsunamis slam cruise ships and freight tankers against the Golden Gate Bridge.
One early sequence where Estranged Wife tries to make her way to the top of a building while all sorts of disasters are going on around her is particularly good. Walls and people fall away, buildings outside crumble, collapse and tumble, sections of the floor crash down to the many floors beneath.
Johnson continues his reign as Hollywood's most likable muscle man, giving one of his best performances to date — a role that requires him to cry, no less, and he pulls it off. He is, of course, the contemporary analogue of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a lot of ways, but, even at his height, Ah-nold was nowhere nearly as charismatic or, honestly, as talented as an actor. That isn't saying that Johnson is the next Gary Oldman or Daniel Day Lewis in waiting, but he doesn't have to be with the sort of material he takes. Rather, he tends to elevate the films he's in — even if they're otherwise unwatchable dreck — just by showing up, which speaks well for his acting career in the future.
There is, of course, an audience for this sort of film, or else they wouldn't still be popping up with some regularity. Such audience will likely find San Andreas to be an outstanding film of its type and an extremely enjoyable experience.
But that doesn't negate the fact that it's a terrific technical achievement with an ultra-charismatic lead that, in every other aspect, is essentially built from a very exact blueprint rife throughout this genre. If you've seen 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, you've basically already seen this movie. The only real changes are the situation that causes the disasters and the actors whose characters are destined to survive or die in the midst of it.