Sunday 14 June 2015

Review: San Andreas - Cheesy and ridiculous but hard to dislike

San Andreas
Director: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti
Running time: 114mins
Despite its cringe-making dialogue, predictable story arc, massive plot contrivances, and the cheesiest ending in cinema history, I found it impossible to dislike San Andreas. I’m a sucker for disaster movies – everything from Earthquake to Melancholia – but was nevertheless impressed by the sheer scale and intensity of the destruction so artfully rendered here. Unlike many CGI-heavy films, you can see where every single cent of its $110million budget went.

Dwayne Johnson – charismatic and likeable as always – is Ray, a fearless rescue-chopper pilot. The death of daughter Mallory in an accident has led to the collapse of his marriage to Emma (Carla Gugino), who is now shacked up with oily wrong ’un Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Meanwhile, professor of earthquake-related stuff Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) too late realises a super-huge mega-quake is due to strike America’s West Coast – right along the infamous San Andreas fault in fact – and that he must stick around to provide exposition and the occasional grave look to camera. When the ‘Big One’ hits, Ray zips off in his chopper to save Emma, as well as Blake (Alexandra Daddario), his other daughter, who is every bit as plucky as her dad and looks considerably better in a bikini.

I make light of the plot, but there’s real jeopardy and proper tension in many of the scenes here. In the opening 10 minutes, before we even get to the earthquake, we see Johnson and his copter crew attempt the rescue of a young woman whose car has skidded off the road and plunged into a narrow ravine. It’s armrest-gripping, nail-biting stuff filled with moments when you seriously wonder if all concerned aren’t going to meet a very messy end indeed. But director Peyton (who teamed up with Johnson for 2012’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) is just setting out his stall at this point, as if to say, “You think this is tense, just you wait…”

And, of course, what follows is sequence after sequence packed full of skyscrapers being rent asunder, shattered glass and pulverised concrete raining death and destruction down upon all and sundry, tsunamis as big as houses, the earth splitting open like a burst melon – and a host of beautifully choreographed, nick-of-time escapes for our hero and his family. Peyton really keeps the action moving too, quickly getting Johnson out of his chopper – into a car, into a plane, into a boat – as the story becomes a straight-no-chaser race against time to save his daughter from a watery grave.

I really don’t like 3D – if I wanted to reduce the brightness of something I was watching by 25 per cent, I’d simply wear a veil – so I have no idea how San Andreas looked in that format. In 2D, though, it’s a real feast for the eyes. There’s a scene towards the end of the film when Johnson and Gugino are on a speedboat searching for Blake and it’s like something out of a dystopian sci-fi film in which global warming has melted the polar ice caps and the sea level has risen to engulf even our biggest cities. You really get a sense of the scale and madness of the devastation that has been wrought, and downtown San Francisco – a crumbling, flooded ruin – is the stuff of nightmares. 

San Andreas may be purest hokum and, ultimately, just another paean to the strength of the family (and America) but still I found its appetite for destruction pretty intoxicating.

Rating: WW

San Andreas is in cinemas now


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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