That was what I leaned over and said to The Cinnamon Girl as the closing credits to the Dwayne Johnson earthquake movie San Andreas were beginning to roll.
But I said it with a big, big smile on my face.
I had a very good time watching San Andreas – probably a better time than a more refined movie fan would have had, but I’ve never pretended to be more than a slavish consumer of pop culture with my movie tastes. As such, San Andreas was the popcorn movie I was looking for on a Friday night a few weeks back at the beginning of the summer. Perhaps, as it nears the end of its run, it will be the type of movie you’re looking for, too.
The plot, such as it is, is neither complex nor original and San Andreas owes so much to other movies that it will be difficult to acknowledge all of its cinematic antecedents, but I will highlight a few.
We begin with a hero and a pretty spectacular one at that. Let’s put him in some jeopardy (Car hanging off the side of a cliff and stuck in a tree with occupant inside – see Park, Jurassic) and see if he can get out of it with and save the innocent victim at the last-minute. Spoiler alert – he can. Let’s make him a little – just a wee bit – tortured (divorce, an ex-wife who’s moved on and a kid he loves but cannot protect – see Worlds, War of the) and show he’s not perfect. Just really damned close to perfect. Then ramp up some jeopardy. There’s this fault line running through California, a big, potentially destructive coming together of two landmasses that, if properly agitated, could make California fall into the sea (“Bye, bye, California. Hello, new West Coast.” – see Luthor, Lex from Superman the Movie). Once that thing gets shaking, we’ll need a scientist to offer lengthy exposition (see, movie, every disaster). Keeping ramping up the stakes (child in danger, incredible obstacles, water, flames, etc – see Nemo, Finding), changing the mode of transport (Helicopter crash? Plane crash? Find a boat! – see Automobiles, Planes, Trains and) while building towards an unlikely reunion (the family is back together – see Z, World War) and you’ve just about nailed San Andreas – provided you don’t forget every disaster movie ever made before 2015.
Okay, then, why did it work for me? Well, I love almost every disaster movie made before 2015. Give me some Towering Inferno, Aiport, Poseidon Adventure action and I am hooked. Fortunately, in San Andreas, all of the conventions of these films are referenced (including a creepily sung theme song – Sia’s cover of California Dreamin’ which accompanied some of the trailers and played over the closing credits). And, while no one is going to confuse Dwayne Johnson for Paul Newman, Steve McQueen or Gene Hackman, he’s got some charisma. He’s commanding and fun and, if you don’t believe that he’s really some hot-shot rescue pilot who can come up with implausible solutions in impossible situations, why did you want to see San Andreas in the first place?
Come for the destruction, stay for Paul Giamatti. Though he’s often reduced to running and hiding (mainly under shaking tables while offering exposition), he is in one great action sequence at the Hoover Dam (again, The Movie, Superman) and he does the most with the barest sketch of a character as he can. He elevates the material and plays it straight for almost the entire movie though, to hear him say “dude, let’s make some news, brah” was, in-and-of-itself, almost worth the price of admission.
Carla Gugino is always good but she is reduced to something of a damsel in San Andreas. Though she has perhaps the best line of the movie “You left my daughter? If you’re not already dead, I am going to fracking kill you!”, hers is a pretty thankless role. She gets to do a lot of jumping, a lot of screaming and some boat navigation. Oh, and she gets to be rescued. A lot.
But, what are we really here for? Bloodless destruction of private property and San Andreas makes Man of Steel look like the LEGO Movie in this regard. There are some pretty spectacular set pieces put on by Brad Petyon… I won’t call him a director here, he’s more of a choreographer. What he does with the action, he does very well and, in the end, that’s what carries the movie.
If the movies fumbles my good will in it’s very last second when it misses the perfect last line of the movie for The Rock (watch it and think how much better his last line would have been if he had said: “Now? Now I have to go to work.”), that can be forgiven. The rest of it is perfect idiocy. San Andreas is an awful (the right word) lot of fun. It’s just the mindless confection for a Friday night. Do yourself a favor, turn off the mind a bit and turn up the smiles. The movie isn’t going to surprise you, but it will entertain you.
SAN ANDREAS receives FOUR LUCKY AIRPORTS WITH PRIVATE JETS READY TO FLY out of a possible FIVE.