#NODISREPSECTTOBENAFFLECK—the Wal-Mart $5 DVD bin can yield the occasional gem in between the shitty horror b-movies. But I’m still on my post-Fury Road high. Any action movie that doesn’t have examine gender politics by way of a bald, head-butting Charlize Theron just isn’t going to cut it for me for the rest of the summer.
Instead, San Andreas gives us bald (but no head butting) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Ray, a Los Angeles Fire and Rescue officer who has to save his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario, taking her obligatory turn in the supporting cast of a Hollywood blockbuster after her breakout performance in “True Detective”) after the San Andreas fault goes off, resulting in the biggest earthquake in recorded history. The plot merrily skips along, hitting every beat you expect it to. Does The Rock need a plane? Look, there’s a guy who knows where an airfield is! OK—now, for Action Reasons, we need a boat scene. Look, there’s a boat right there! Cell service stays up juuuust long enough for Blake (every time The Rock said it, which was a lot, my brain helpfully added “Buh-lah-kay”) to call her dad and tell her where she is, thus advancing the plot. Shit like that. The YAY PATRIOTISM ending is hacky (if unintentionally amusing), and the dialogue is riddled with clichés. At one point Ray, honest to God, utters the phrase “Don’t you quit on me!” as he’s about to perform CPR on someone.
The characters are all cookie-cutter. There’s the hot, plucky daughter; the hot, plucky daughter’s clean-cut love interest (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his moppet younger brother (Game of Thrones’ Art Parkinson); the ex-wife whom the plot requires that Ray reconnect with (Carla Gugino, because Famke Janssen was busy); the ex-wife’s dickish new boyfriend, played by Ioan Gruffudd, who I swear to God is wearing blush. And, of course, Ray himself—the clean-cut hero who loves his family and loves rescuing people and loves AMURRICA.
There’s also Archie Panjabi (the determined journalist) and Paul Giamatti (the scientist). This movie loves its tropes so much that at one point it has Panjabi say that Giamatti “knew this would happen!!! But no one would listen to him!!!!,” even though he knew it would happen like five minutes before it actually happened. Still. Gotta get that in there.
(Side note: screaming seismologist Paul Giamatti might just be the Alpha!Paul Giamatti. I never knew what my life was missing until now.)
That said, I feel kind of bad for writing a negative review of San Andreas. Imagine a five year old kid who eats paste shows you a drawing of a dinosaur he did, only it looks like someone took a snot-colored shit on a Picasso. You wouldn’t tell him that. You’d smile and nod in a vague way and say “Oh, that’s great!” The paste-eating kid and his snot-colored shit dinosaur is this movie. It set out to tell a stupid, trope-filled story about The Rock rescuing people from earthquakes, and that’s what it did. The earthquake scenes are actually pretty good! And the Rock is charismatic as always, even though the movie requires him to do far too much by way of “emotional talks with my ex-wife, look, the manly man was emotionally closed-off before, but now he’s becoming sensitive!” No. The Rock is good with action, and he’s good with comedy. He’s not good with Nicholas Sparks-type material. Play to your strengths.
For comparison’s sake, look at Tomorrowland, which—stretching this analogy to its limit—is a pretentious grad school b-bag who wrote a short story about that time his main character—totally not a stand-in for him—fucked a hot co-ed, and how that’s a metaphor for, like, the downfall of humanity and smartphones and Twitter. Isn’t it deep? One would feel comfortable talking shit in that situation, because the story has ambitions that it absolutely failed at delivering. San Andreas has no ambitions at all. It’s kind of endearing, like a cute but stupid puppy who keeps eating your shoes. And who cost exponentially more than you will make in your entire lifetime.
OK, fuck this movie.
Final verdict: If you’re bored and want to turn your brain off, San Andreas works. Otherwise, save it for a half-drunk movie night Netflixer with your friends. Dumb but fun (mostly in a ”laughing at it” way) and utterly forgettable.