Sunday, May 31, 2015

"San Andreas"

 1.5 / 5 

San Andreas is a disaster movie made for audiences that grew up with the Syfy Channel, watching entertainment like Sharknado and Mansquito, movies that I haven't seen (OK, true, I've seen most of Sharknado) but that were made with tongues solidly lodged in cheeks.  They were deliberately awful.  I don't think San Andreas is deliberately awful, which is kind of surprising.

If it had been called FloodQuake or QuakeNami and been shot at a fraction of the budget, Syfy might make the perfect home for San Andreas, which is at about the same overall quality level as one of those Z-grade shlockfests.

San Andreas stars Dwayne Johnson, who no longer goes by "The Rock," which might be because he's a serious actor now who doesn't even take his shirt off onscreen anymore.  It also stars Paul Giamatti (also fully clothed, perhaps thankfully) as a Cal Tech seismologist who pops in and out of the movie at key moments to say helpful things like, "It's a 9-point-6 ... the biggest earthquake ever recorded."

Giamatti and Johnson are the two biggest stars, but they're probably not really the reason anyone is interested in seeing San Andreas.  Pretty much the only reason to see San Andreas is to watch the state of California get destroyed, from L.A. to San Francisco.  (Good news, people of San Diego and anywhere-north-of-San-Francisco: You're spared this time.)

On that level, it would be nice to report that San Andreas does not disappoint, but the fact of the matter is that its computer-generated earthquake scenes look like the kind of thing you might find on a History Channel documentary about The Next Big One.  San Andreas has visual effects that are on par with every other film out there these days.  Sure, L.A. and San Francisco get shaken up pretty spectacularly, but there's no shock-and-awe moment for the audience, the camera never stops moving long enough to give us a good, hard look at the devastation, which is about as much of a rip-off as watching a porn movie in which the actors never fully disrobe.  You catch some glimpses of the good stuff, but never get a moment to be properly impressed.

While watching San Andreas I found myself, not surprisingly, thinking back to movies like The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno and even Titanic.  The directors of those movies didn't like to let down their audience.  They made sure to include long, lingering widescreen vistas that let us see all the devastation and destruction.  San Andreas comes close, but never really gives us the money shot we came to see.

What we're left then, instead, is the story and the individual incidents.  The story is non-existent.  Two pre-earthquake scenes set up that Dwayne (Not the Rock) Johnson is a heroic, indefatigable fire-rescue officer with a teenage daughter who lives a spoiled-girl rich life with her mother's new boyfriend.   In the movie's first 10 minutes, we get to see Dwayne (Not the Rock) Johnson take part in a daring rescue mission, get interviewed by the world's most unbelievable news crew, then go home to open his divorce papers.

That all happens in a few scenes.  San Andreas has no time to linger, no time to develop characters.  It does not have a first hour, like Poseidon or Towering, where all you're doing is getting to know the characters so you can feel bad for them later when they die.  It has a 10-minute setup, then San Andreas gets right into the thick of things with the first earthquake.

It's a doozy.  It destroys all the buildings in downtown L.A.  It might have destroyed many buildings in many other parts of sprawling Los Angeles, but we only capture brief hints of that from the air.  L.A. isn't actually very much on the mind of San Andreas.  It wants to get to San Francisco.

Convenient, then, that there is a previously unknown fault out near the Hoover Dam that apparently links up smaller faults to the big one.  Or something like that.  The science and geology is more than a little fuzzy in San Andreas.

The only thing that Paul Giamatti's seismologist knows for sure is that the giant, massive earthquake is, at quite an unexpectedly slow pace, making its way up the coast to San Francisco.

I've never heard of the ability to track an earthquake's physical movements, nor heard of an earthquake that moves up the state so methodically.  I didn't even know earthquakes had movements like the ones in this movie, but I guess that's why I'm not a seismologist.  Helpfully, though, the earthquakes in San Andreas seem to be aware of and even a little respectful of people, so if someone is trying to run with outstretched arms toward someone s/he loves in San Andreas, the earthquake is always destroying the ground s/he just walked on, so that everyone is (quite successfully) always outrunning earthquakes in San Andreas.

San Andreas is pretty much all earthquake, all the time, except for a couple of painfully out-of-place scenes in which Dwayne (Not the Rock) Johnson and his screen wife Carla Gugino talk about his feelings about the daughter they lost years before in a drowning accident.  None of the other characters, though, get a backstory.  None of them are real, flesh-and-blood people.  There are no soap-opera-style setups like in the heyday of disaster movies.  Why waste that kind of time when you've got all those CG artists on standby waiting to make digital buildings look like they're falling down?

Earthquakes and tsunamis account for about 85% of San Andreas's running time, and that much earthquaking gets exhausting after a while.  Lest your attention flag, however, a bombastic score is ready to beat you over the head with the points that should otherwise be obvious.  San Andreas is not a movie that believes in restraint or subtlety, so the music is as overbearing and inescapable as the natural forces on screen.

By the time the last 10 minutes rolled around, I didn't care who lived and who died anymore, I just wanted the shaking to stop.  And it does, finally, just long enough for a massive American flag to be unfurled from atop the now-ravaged Golden Gate Bridge, for Dwayne (Not the Rock) Johnson to look lovingly at his screen wife as they survey the wreckage from a vantage point across the Golden Gate (never mind wondering how they got there since the bridge is out) and helpfully point out the next step: "We rebuild."

That's what Americans do, it seems -- we destroy and we rebuild and we feel good about it.  We move on immediately from the biggest earthquake in recorded history, the one that destroyed all of California (or, at least, Los Angeles, San Francisco and some of Bakersfield), and we become patriotic.  We remind ourselves why our country is so great.

Rah-rah.  Earthquakes will bring us closer together.  Never mind the millions of people who just lost their lives.  The setting sun shines onto that flag and we know we can do anything we put our minds to doing.

That's really how San Andreas ends.  And the visual effects really aren't all that good.  There, I've just saved you $12 from going to see it yourself.  If you do persist, though, don't say I didn't warn you: San Andreas is a disaster.

Viewed May 31, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


No comments:

Post a Comment