I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m a pretty big fan of disaster films. I’m not quite sure what it is about this sub-genre of film that I get a get a kick out of, but I’ve always had a soft spot of them ever since I was young (TITANIC, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO are some of my favourites ones). I guess what like about them is that they are a great examination of how we as human beings would react if we are ever find ourselves facing a major catastrophe . Or maybe I just enjoy the spectacle of seeing total destruction onscreen (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Either way when I first heard about SAN ANDERAS, I knew that this would be a film that would right up my alley for sure.
The film tells the story of Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), who works as a rescue-helicopter pilot for the Los Angelis Fire Department. One day his life changes forever when California is rocked by a massive devastating earthquake. When he finds out that his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is trapped somewhere in San Francisco in the aftermath, Ray and his estranged ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) travel across the state to go find out before more earthquakes hit the city.
I should start off by saying that if you have seen the trailers for this film, they do pretty much 100% sum up exactly what this film is going to like. This is an incredibly dumb and silly action/disaster film that’s extremely cheesy on every level. However that being said, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I still found this film enjoyable because of those reasons. Let’s face it the only reason we as an audience go see these films is to turn off out brain for a few hours and enjoy the spectacle, which I thought that director Brad Peyton (who previously made JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND) did a good job with. Sure the script by LOST co-creator Carlton Cruse (from a story by Andre Fabizio & Jeremy Passmore) is pretty clichéd and dumb in equal measure (I’m not a scientist, but I pretty sure the scientific accuracy of this film is probably much non-existent) but you can definitely tell while watching it, that Peyton knows exactly what type of film he is making and embraced the silliness of its premise without it ever feeling too much like a parody). While the film has the epic scope and spectacle of a Roland Emmerich disaster film (particularly THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012), but the story itself is surprisingly pretty small scaled when compared to Emmerich’s work. In fact I would say that film is more line with the disaster films that were made in the 90s like TWISTER, DANTE’S PEAK or DAYLIGHT. Like those films I mentioned, this film only has a small group of cast members as well instead of having a huge ensemble one like most in the genre do.
Some of the cast for the most part give serviceable performances. Let’s be honest this isn’t a film that asks its actors to do much with their roles, but some of them did still did well nonetheless. Dwayne Johnson gives solid performance in the role of “Ray”. While Johnson brings his trademark qualities that we all know and love him for to his role, but he also gives him a ‘every man’ quality that makes the character of “Ray” relatable (one dramatic scene in particular gives Johnson to show us a bit more of his dramatic range). Carla Gugino also gives a strong performance as ‘Emma’. It’s always nice to see her as as the lead in a film, especially in a big budget blockbuster like this one (her and Johnson have great chemistry together, which is no surprise since this film is their third time starring together in a film). Also Alexandra Daddario was quite solid in her role of “Blake” (I was worried she was going to be a damsel in distress, but luckily she go more to do here) and Paul Giamatti brings some class to the film with his performance as “Lawrence Hayes”, a seismologist who tries to find more about the earthquake. But let’s be honest other the actors, the real stars of the film are definitely the special effects. The CGI disaster sequences in this film are pretty spectacular. Every single one are extremely well staged, realistic and even intense (there is one sequence that involves Carla Gugino trying to escape from a building that’s done in a 3 minutes long one-take continuous shot, which I thought was pretty terrific.
While there a lot of aspects that I did enjoy, there are some things about the film that I think didn’t work. Like said earlier my review, this is a pretty dumb film. While I don’t have a real problem with that (this is a disaster film after all) but I will admit that there were some moments that were so dumb, that they did come across as being unintentionally hilarious (especially during some of the film’s dramatic moments, which I don’t think the filmmakers were intending). Also it didn’t help that the dialogue in this film was extremely cheesy. Not that I was expecting it to be like Shakespeare or anything, it could have been better if it sounded more natural but it just sounds extremely forced at times. The film’s tone is a bit uneven as well. There are times where it revels in the absolutely fun insanity of its action set pieces, but then suddenly it takes a turn to the serious by showing the devastating impact and loss of life that these events have caused (particularly during the tsunami sequence). While I do give the filmmakers credit for doing that, but it does feel jarring when compared to the sillier tone of the rest of the film. Also outside of the main cast, some of the supporting cast weren’t good at all. Especially Aussie actor Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who I thought was terrible in the role of “Ben” (it probably didn’t help the choice of giving his character a British accent, which was a bad idea since it sounded awful). Plus Aussie pop signer/actress Kylie Minogue is completely wasted in her role (her appearance is basically a glorified cameo) and the final scene was so cringe-worthy that I actually shook my head (you’ll know what I mean when you see it).
3D NOTE: Now when it came the film’s 3D, I actually thought that it looked great (especially during many of the film’s action/disaster set pieces). If you’re interested, I’d say it is worth checking out in 3D. It actually added a lot to the film.
Overall while SAN ANDREAS is pretty dumb film in almost in every way, but I still had quite a good time with it nonetheless. If you go into it with the right frame of mind, you might find it enjoyable as well. Especially if you’re a big fan of the disaster genre like I am. It’s not the level of Roland Emmerich’s epic disaster films (whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, I’ll leave it up to you), but’s still reasonably fun.
– Bede Jermyn