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San Andreas
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by Jay Seaver

"One or two big faults, but survivable."
3 stars

Movies like "San Andreas" cost a lot of money and the time of a lot of talented people, and yet they so often wind up as a battle between a dumb, pandering script and the basic competence of the cast and crew. The latter eke out a small victory here, I figure, because their work is still fairly easy to appreciate even when they're asked to execute something that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Take the opening sequence, for instance; it has a sense of fun in faking the audience out before setting up a tricky problem for Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and his crew, accompanied by a TV reporter (Archie Panjabi), to solve. That done, he gets down to nearly-divorced dad stuff, but while he's arranging to take daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to college, a Caltech seismologist (Paul Giamatti) I is having his theories on earthquake prediction proven correct in tragic fashion at Hoover Dam. His model predicts that there is more to come, placing both Blake and her mother Emma (Carla Gugino) in dangerous situations in San Francisco and L.A., respectively. Too bad Ray is helping to coordinate rescue efforts for the entire city.

Nah, just kidding - that team described as too close to break up after serving together in the Middle East back during the opening is soon nowhere to be seen, with two dropped off-screen and the other one apparently ditched by Ray quickly walking away after telling him his shoelace is untied. After that, one kind of loses track of how much public and private property Ray appropriates and destroys while zipping right past thousands to millions of other people in need of assistance unless it would directly involve helping his immediate family. Granted, they tend to call him directly instead of 911 and often wind up running against the crowds for their own private rescue plans. On top of that, San Andreas is also the sort of movie that will briefly expect the audience to kind of enjoy someone getting squashed like a bug for the character flaw of being a bit of a jerk but apparently not feel that nature was not settling some sort of score with the other few hundred people being wiped out in the same shot. Given half a minute's thought, this movie becomes a quite horrifying display of how spectacle is supposedly meaningless unless the the audience cares about the characters and their personal stakes.

And, damn it, they kind of might, because Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, and Alexandra Daddario have been cast as the main characters, and they are a pretty thoroughly likable and attractive group. They're the sort of genre-movie vets who know not to oversell things out try to upstage the visual effects, and to his credit, director Brad Peyton doesn't try to force them to. For all the issues it may have have, the script by Carlton Cuse doesn't have a lot of the excess melodrama that similar disaster movies might have trafficked in: Ray, Emma, and Blake don't act like nobody has ever gone through a divorce or lost a family member before them, and never face having their last words to each other be unkind; Paul Giamatti's scientist is excitable, but not an apparent crackpot who has cried wolf. The filmmakers don't even do a "scruffy nerd + hot reporter" subplot for him and Panjabi. Daddario gets one, but her love interest (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) is affable, a capable engineer when that sort of problem solving is called for, and comes with a kid brother (Art Parkinson) who is not annoying at all.

Peyton and the special/visual effects crew do fine work on the spectacle as well. They don't ever come up with a sequence as clever as the opener, but Peyton and the crew build each one with impressive clarity and don't cut it into incomprehensibility. It's alll fairly well-staged. The effects are well-done and look good in 3D, and for the most part, they do a good job of avoiding the Independence Day trap of expecting the audience to root for the destruction instead of being awed by it.

That's kind of setting the bar low, admittedly, and that's what "San Andreas" does. There's not much there, but everyone is good enough at what they do that it doesn't much matter.

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originally posted: 06/09/15 13:06:31
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User Comments

11/09/15 mr.mike Corny and far fetched with only fair CGI. 2 stars
7/09/15 Luke C Rehashed Emmerich drivel. The Rock is cool though 2 stars
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  29-May-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 13-Oct-2015

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