When it comes to disaster movies they can either be as cool as the special effects or be as terrible as the disaster occurring in the film. It’s incredibly difficult to stand out in a genre where most of the films all look the same, so bringing something new to the genre is very rare. But where does this summer’s big disaster movie blockbuster, San Andreas, stand in all this? Is it an earth shattering masterpiece or just one big fault?
San Andreas is set in California where the San Andreas Fault causes a statewide earthquake. In the mix of all this destruction is Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a helicopter rescue pilot who along with his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their only daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) from the disaster.
While the story and script have fallen into the chasm of familiarity, a lot of the characters have followed suit, with a few just hanging onto the edge. San Andreas does cater to very stereotype you can find in a disaster movie. There is the action hero, the hero’s ex wife, their hot daughter, the charming British idiot, the wisecracking kid, the douchebag, the bitch, the scientist, the foreign scientist, the female scientist whose name you never really catch, the TV reporter, the redshirt, the moron who somehow got into Caltech, the “funny” old couple and, of course, the blonde with the boobs. The majority of these characters are so poorly written and so poorly acted too, but there are some positives with certain characters.
Dwayne Johnson steps out of the Fast and Furious’ shadow and into the limelight as the lead, Ray. After years of terrible family films, the former wrestler is trying to legitimise himself as an action hero and a leading man all over again. Thankfully in San Andreas, he is able to do that, he electrifies every time he pops up on screen and grabs your attention. He is believable as a blue-collar worker and a father despite the fact he is in better shape than everyone in the film combined but doesn’t always have to rely on his brawn to help the day. He is a very smart character and even in all this chaos is able to keep calm while everyone else goes bat-crap crazy. The only concern is that he could have done a bit more to truly tug on people’s heart strings during emotional scenes but this is a very small set back in one of Dwayne’s better performances. While Johnson does put in a good performance, the same can’t said for his on screen other half Emma, played by Carla Gugino. She is dreadful in both character and performance; she’s incredibly annoying at times and says ‘Oh my God’ so much I started counting and then lost my place. Gugino and Johnson should have had better on screen chemistry considering this is the third time the two of them have worked together after Race to Witch Mountain and Faster. The two just don't seem like the right fit for each other and you never understand what happened to really push the two of them apart. You have to spend a lot of the time reading between the lines of their relationship to understand their problems.
As stated earlier, there are a lot of characters in San Andreas and I can’t go through them all or otherwise I’ll be here for hours. Paul Giamatti pops up as scientist Lawrence, but you definitely feel that he is over playing his role at times, probably because he doesn't have a lot to work with. Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones plays the wisecracking Ollie and surprisingly his comedic moments actually work. Not every line is perfect but he gets the biggest laughs at the screening and fits perfectly into the role.
Hugo Johnstone-Burt plays his older brother and Blake’s love interest Ben and while he's good in the role and you're behind him a lot of the time to survive, his character is also one of the biggest problems in the film. Why is Hollywood still under the impression that every single British guy is a bumbling idiot who just happens to be good-looking at the same time? Do they seriously still think we are walking around like a 90s rom-com version of Hugh Grant? While this is clearly a developmental problem that should have been fixed long ago, there is a question that cannot be answered, what the hell was Kylie Minogue doing in this film? Her character is clearly only here to push forced exposition into the film. She has just about ten lines at most in the film and then disappears. It’s just a very odd and poor cameo from the pop princess.
Watching San Andreas, it feels the filmmakers could have had something special in their hands, an opportunity to change the disaster movie genre. The film is visually stunning and hits very action beat perfectly, plus Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario put in some of their best performances of their career. But in the end, a predictable script and stereotypical characters ruin a potential game changer for the genre. It is better than expected but San Andreas doesn’t have enough magnitude to create a real impact.
San Andreas is out May 28th!