San AndreasDisaster movies are like cicadas: noisy, plentiful, routine, and predictable. Fortunately, for most, both are only a minor annoyance. We are made aware of the insects by the unique song a swarm produces. Disaster movies let us know of their arrival in a less subtle manner: a bombastic trailer that reveals the world falling apart around our hero du jour. Our reaction to these occurrences are usually a comment on how time passes: “Didn’t we just have a tornado movie?” or “Is this the every 13-year or 17-year kind?”

The summer of 2015 will see the hatching of both 13-year and 17-year cicadas in North America, and the premiere of San Andreas. One thing is certain right now: the movie represents a particularly nasty infestation in way too many Cineplexes.

San Andreas purports to show the inevitable – the consequences of the “big one” that will lay waste to large swaths of California one day. Not content with showing the magnitude of destruction that scientists agree would result from a major seismic event, the filmmakers go full biblical here, with mega quakes in LA and SF, and a literal line of destruction connecting the two cities. Somehow, we also get a tsunami coming toward an epicenter rather than away from one, because it’s pretty damn cool – which always trumps reality – and because you can only have little tiny model buildings collapse for so long before you want to drown them in water.

The bigger the disaster, the more intense the tragedy must be on a personal level for our designated savior. That would be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Can you smell what The Rock is cooking? No. No, you can’t, because in San Andreas, The Rock is not cooking at all. He is a slab of raw meat, which is happens when you strip Johnson of any opportunity to be charming or to show off or to act out his supercilious alter ego who dominates without offending. Here, he is an extremely large lump of man flesh, burdened with so much back story and ongoing family angst that he says every single one of his lines with a grimace.

The Rock is Ray, helicopter pilot extraordinaire, back from the wars with his squad, who now zoom around SoCal saving blondes from rock slides. The helicopter sticks around for most of the movie, but the crew is jettisoned pretty quickly when disaster strikes and then strikes again and again. Ray must save his soon-to-be ex-wife and then they collectively must save their daughter.

Meanwhile, a completely different set of characters, huddled for most of the movie under tables in a lab at CalTech, are developing a model for predicting earthquakes which proves to (a) work, and (b) be completely worthless. But in terms of being grateful for even the smallest of miracles, audiences will at least be spared from one of Paul Giamatti’s eat-the-scenery performances. He’s nicely understated as the scientist in San Andreas, Dr. Irrelevant.

What is striking looking at the remainder of the cast is the absence of household names and the curious on-screen relationships. Carla Gugino plays Ray’s almost ex. Gugino is only 15 years older than the 29-year old actress, Alexandra Daddario, who is Ray’s 20-year old daughter, introduced in a scene that has her pouring out of a bikini. Oedipus had a more normal home life than poor Ray, especially if we throw in the whole dead other daughter thing, and, oh boy, do they.

Director Brad Peyton, known for Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and screenwriter Carlton Cuse who had a hand in writing the Lost finale perform to their pedigree. Enough said.

San Andreas is formulaic to the point of parody. The only thing missing is Leslie Nielsen popping up in the co-pilot seat and telling The Rock not to call him Shirley. Bottom line: this is Sensurround awful (Google it – refers back to the 1974 movie Earthquake). The special effects and the story lines are cheap knockoffs of The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, and Twister. Worse than plagiarism is the shameless invocation at the end of 9-11 imagery. San Andreas does not represent the first time it has occurred, but it is particularly offensive when put in service in such a ham handed, cynical manner.

 

 

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