San Andreas (2015)

We always knew this day would come.

Not to be confused with the popular 2004 Grand Theft Auto video-game — which this film shares no link with, nor has a direct correlation to — San Andreas is the latest action-thriller disaster epic that reunites Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson with director Brad Peyton, following the pair’s collaboration on 2012’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Following the chain of disaster movies that dominated the box-office in the late 90s/early 2000s — films where devastating events such as earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and other such natural phenomena sparked the tension — it seemed the world was finally free from calamity when Roland Emmerich’s near miss, The Day After Tomorrow, failed to make a killing back in 2004. Ten years on, in the wake of 2014’s mediocre Into the Storm, and now with the multimillion-dollar San Andreas smashing into theaters, the act-of-God sub-genre appears to be making a comeback as Mother Nature is stirred once more and the inhabitants of Earth are no longer safe.

Equally timed with his immortalization into the Hollywood Walk of Fame — with The Rock’s hand and foot ceremony taking place on May 19th 2015, outside the famous TCL Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard — San Andreas stars Dwayne Johnson, who takes on the role of Ray Gaines, a highly skilled search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, currently in the midst of going through a painstaking and unwelcome divorce. However, after the infamous San Andreas Fault gives, triggering a magnitude nine-plus earthquake in California — the largest on record — Ray manages to rescue his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) from atop of a crumbling building — literally in the nick of time — and together the two attempt to travel from Los Angeles all the way to San Francisco, in order to save their college-bound daughter Blake, played by an insanely mesmerizing Alexandra Daddario — geez this gal is pretty! But the duo’s treacherous journey north is only the beginning, as while the people living on the U.S. West Coast believe that the nightmare may be over, the landscape is just starting to tremble, and the worst is still yet to come.

Let's Rock & Roll!
Let’s Rock & Roll!

With a marketing campaign focusing heavily on the film’s illustrious ‘force majeure,’ San Andreas is no doubt visually impressive — it’s destruction on a grand scale and then some — though sadly, the picture doesn’t try too hard to veer away from convention, nor does it attempt to distinguish itself from the abundance of other similarly themed ‘unforeseen event’ flicks; and when all is said and done, San Andreas, fenced in familiarity, will surly give viewers that awfully recognizable feeling of déjà vu. With a zestful tongue-in-cheek script — penned by Carlton Cuse, who is known for writing on television’s Lost (2004) — that embraces its campiness, San Andreas is pure escapism entertainment, fraught with heart-pounding action and cheer-worthy improbable near-misses/narrow escapes; be that as it may, there is very little weight behind any of the casualties and the cost of human life seems to come secondary to its razzle-dazzle. Surprisingly though, the film does manage to find some time for quieter character moments in amongst its big-screen spectacle, where apocalyptic havoc, extravagant visual effects and crumbling CGI structures vie for screen-time.

Anchoring the feature with his formidable presence and good-guy charisma is Dwayne Johnson, Hercules (2014), instilling the character of Ray Gaines with warmth, sensitivity and an honest sense of charm; audiences will inevitably find themselves rooting for Ray as he endeavors to win back the love of his wife while simultaneously trying to be a hero to his daughter, hoping to haul her out of harm’s way. Johnson, time and time again, keeps proving that he is more than just a muscle-bound warrior or a strong-arm action-hero, and San Andreas is no exception, as Johnson’s finer moments come about within the picture’s more sombre scenes, particularly as the grief-stricken father, Ray, recollects aching memories of the past, reminiscing on the tragic events that led to his current unhappy separation with soon-to-be ex-wife Emma, played by Carla Gugino, Watchmen (2009), in what is now her third film alongside the former WWE superstar.

Where will you be?
Where will you be?

Sharing the screen with The Rock are co-stars Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010), as Ray’s damsel-in-distress daughter, Blake — I can look into this stunning woman’s piercing blue eyes for ever — with Aussie Home and Away (1988) soap-star Hugo Johnstone-Burt filling the shoes of Ben, a British youngster who crosses paths with Blake during an interview at her potential step-dad’s workplace, multimillion dollar property developer Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd); ironically Ben instantly develops a liking toward Blake, even in and amongst the surrounding chaos and confusion. Then there’s Ben’s say-it-like-it-is little brother Ollie, played by Art Parkinson, Dracula Untold (2014), who accompanies the ‘love-birds’ and supplies some much needed humor amid all the foreboding doom and gloom, as the trio trek across the crumbling San Francisco cityscape in the hope of meeting up with, and being rescued by, Blake’s chopper-pilot father, Ray. Surprisingly not coupled in any scenes with Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Sideways (2004), brings gravitas to San Andreas and provides plenty of exposition as seismologist Lawrence, who predicts the earthquake to ‘deaf ears,’ and solely exists to explain the flick’s science to dumbfounded patrons. Australian viewers should look out for a cameo by our very own ‘sweetheart,’ pop-star Kylie Minogue in a short-lived appearance as Susan Riddick, Emma’s new boyfriend’s pretentious sister.

Although The Rock does undoubtedly hold a certain audience pull, the visual effects in San Andreas prove to be the film’s biggest stars. From the untamed introductory search-and-rescue effort — where a car is madly propelled off a cliff, then wedged into a jagged vertical rock face — to a jaw-dropping sequence involving a cargo ocean liner and a tsunami — standing to be among the picture’s most noteworthy moments — the stunning set pieces and CGI pandemonium in San Andreas set a new benchmark for thrilling, digitalized carnage. Visual effect supervisor Colin Strause, The Avengers (2012), should really be commended for his admirable work and attention to detail instilled into every single frame, as the naturally fueled destruction is truly a spectacle unto itself. Be sure to sit through the end credits, as Sia’s revision of The Mamas & the Papas 1965 hit California Dreamin’ — heard within the film’s trailers — will more-or-less cleanse the palate from 114-minutes of sensory shattering madness and mayhem.

This is one rock an earthquake can't shake!
This is one rock an earthquake can’t shake!

Shot partly on location in The Gold Coast and Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, and in Los Angeles and San Francisco, director of photography Steve Yedlin, Looper (2012), production designer Barry Chusid, The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and the rest of the filmmaking team have spared no expense in bringing this ambitious blockbuster of cataclysmic proportions to the silver screen as San Andreas is an irrefutable optical wonder, one where skyscrapers topple over like dominoes and demolition on a geographic scale reigns supreme. Sure, the smoke-filled skies may be too September 11-esque for some, but San Andreas — cliché and silly-as-hell, with a ‘rock-solid’ performance by Dwayne Johnson and plenty of eye-candy thanks to a stunning Alexandra Daddario — owns its cheesiness, and succeeds as a fun and rousing, crowd-pleasing noisemaker of ‘earthshaking’ proportions.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by S-Littner

San Andreas is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia