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Movie Review of the Week: “San Andreas”

Movie Review of the Week: “San Andreas”
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By Alison Bailes

Wonderfully preposterous and gleefully entertaining, “San Andreas” makes 1974’s “Earthquake” seem like a mini blip on the cinematic Richter scale. Bigger, louder, and more muscular in every way, this is an unabashedly retro disaster flick that wears its genre markings proudly.

Every line of dialogue seems ripped from another movie so don’t go expecting reinvention of the wheel. Screenwriter Carlton Cuse (TV’s “Lost”) seems to delight in piling on the clichés and stock characters. But let’s face it, you don’t go to an action movie starring Dwayne Johnson for the clever plot and nuanced writing. You go for his pumped up physique and corny line readings and there is no shortage of both here. As well as mass destruction of San Francisco of course.

We first lay eyes on Johnson’s square jaw and thick neck as he pilots an L.A. rescue helicopter over the California hills where a damsel in distress hangs precipitously in a chasm, trapped in her car. This opening scene has nothing to do with the rest of the film, but it sets the stage for the amped up action to come. Johnson’s Ray Gaines is a risk taker and he’ll stop at nothing to get the job done. Witnessing his prowess is television reporter (Archie Panjabi) who happens to be along for the ride.  When she asks him why he goes to such lengths, he stoically replies “just doing my job ma’am”.  And that line pretty much sums up Ray’s character.

We’ve seen the trailer and the movie posters, so there are no surprises where this story is headed. Paul Giamatti isn’t quite given enough to do as a CalTech seismologist who predicts that the “big one” is coming, but he still makes an impression as the kooky expert. An early scene at the Hoover Dam sets the bar pretty high as far as special effects and from then on it’s just one huge spectacle after another. As well as earthquakes, there is a tsunami that floods the bay area. Ray and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) crest the monster wave in a speedboat in a scene that defies gravity and logic, but gets the heart pounding nonetheless.

Millions of people die in “San Andreas” but the screenplay is not concerned with any of them (other than a handful of “baddies” who eat it early and gruesomely). It’s enough to keep a narrow focus on Ray, his busty wife and his even more busty daughter (Alexandra Daddario). Wearing a tight top while running from collapsing buildings seems to be the job requirement for the women here although Johnson also fits that criterion.

Director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” which also starred The Rock) knows his audience and doesn’t slow down for too much emotion, or you know, acting. But there is one nice scene between Ray and Emma that hints at hidden reserves to Johnson’s stony exterior.  And in a movie jam-packed with jaw-dropping special effects, that might just be the most surprising spectacle of all.

 

 

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