My romance with disaster films goes all the way back to 1997’s Volcano. I fell in love watching a volcano erupt in the middle of a Los Angeles that only Tommy Lee Jones could stop. Since then, disaster films have only gotten bigger, bolder, and more disastery.
The latest contribution to the genre is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s San Andreas. The Rock plays the leader of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Search and Rescue team. After Cal Tech seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) predicts a massive quake at Hoover Dam, he realizes the model they’ve created works and the Hoover Dam quake was just the beginning.
Before Lawrence and his team could blink, a 9.0 earthquake rips up the San Andreas fault and rocks every city from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Ray immediately goes to rescue his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and they both head to San Francisco to rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who’s trapped in the city. Ray and Emma are on a race against time because things in San Francisco go from bad to worse to “oh, come on!”
San Andreas is swamped with disaster movie clichés – selfish/evil characters, unnecessary dramatic pauses, a hero who lost someone in the past, a fractured family, computer readings that forecast disaster and landmarks demolished in slow motion. But none of that is what makes the movie dreadful.
There are two major problems with San Andreas. The first being the disaster (or disasters) in the film. After the first quake scene when we are treated to a wide shot of the ground underneath Los Angeles doing the worm, followed by Ray’s helicopter maneuvering around falling buildings like they’re debris on the street, the action in the film gets repetitive. It felt like watching the same sports highlights on different channels – there’s some variation between each station but it’s basically the same thing. How many times can you watch someone run for their lives only to get pancaked by falling concrete? I lost count at six.
The second problem is the film’s main character, Ray. Why is he a hero again? If you’re going to cast The Rock as the hero in your action film, let him do Rock things. Outside of Ray ripping off a car door in the film’s opening scene and rescuing his wife (both happen in the first 3o minutes), he’s pretty useless. Instead of lifting rocks, carrying four people at once to safety, or stopping a car from going off a cliff by holding onto its bumper, Ray spends most of his screen time mumbling about his daughter and arguing with his estranged wife. If you think Ray goes around rescuing people on the way to his daughter, you’re wrong. He’s a selfish man on a mission. Every over-the-top disaster film needs an over-the-top hero and Ray isn’t it.. The Rock feels a little reigned in during this film. The movie is already ridiculous, at least let The Rock do his shtick to keep the movie interesting. I’d rather watch The Rock punch a fault line than watch another screaming pedestrian get crushed by a CGI building.
San Andreas isn’t adding anything innovative to the genre. It’s another waltz down the disaster movie trail that has every box checked. It’s fun if you enjoy watching unrecognizable people get crushed by buildings and giant waves. Or if you enjoy watching couples parachuting into baseball parks. I fully expect to see it wedged alongside 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow during some holiday weekend disaster movie marathon. The only way you’ll be able to tell these movies apart is The Rock’s sad dad face and his lack of empathy for other characters. My romance with disaster films will continue, I hope next time we get something a little different.