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"SAN ANDREAS"
(2015) (Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A nearly divorced couple tries to locate and rescue their teenage daughter when a series of major earthquakes strike along California's San Andreas fault line.
PLOT:
Ray Gaines (DWAYNE JOHNSON) is a chopper pilot with the L.A. Fire Department's search and rescue team, and he has more than six hundred rescues to his credit. But following the past drowning death of one of their daughters, he's been unable to save his marriage to Emma (CARLA GUGINO). She's since moved on, filed divorce papers, and is planning on moving in, along with their surviving teenage daughter, Blake (ALEXANDRA DADDARIO), into the home of Daniel Riddick (IOAN GRUFFUDD), a real estate developer who's building the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco.

Ray's hoping to spend some time with Blake before she heads off to college there, but a major earthquake strikes the Hoover Dam in Nevada, completely destroying it. While Ray is caught off-guard by this development and his need to get back to rescue work, Cal Tech's seismology professor Lawrence Hayes (PAUL GIAMATTI) pretty much knew it was coming. With the help of his assistants, he's devised a way to read early warning signs, and while being interviewed by TV reporter Serena Johnson (ARCHIE PANJABI), he realizes the Nevada quake was just a harbinger of what might be coming for the major cities along California's San Andreas fault line.

But before that warning goes out, a major quake strikes Los Angeles, prompting Ray to make a daring rescue of Emma from a rooftop, all while Blake ends up trapped inside a car in a parking garage, with Daniel abandoning her. Luckily for her, a young man, Ben Taylor (HUGO JOHNSTONE-BURT) -- who was applying for a job with Daniel's firm -- and his younger brother, Ollie (ART PARKINSON), arrive to rescue her just in the nick of time.

After they manage to get outside and contact Ray via a landline, Blake and her two new friends await the arrival of Ray and Emma. But with more quakes striking, the estranged couple's route from L.A. to San Francisco becomes a complicated one, although that pales in comparison to finding their daughter in San Francisco that's not only been ravaged by the shaking, but is also facing the prospect of being run over by a tsunami.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
There are plenty of cities and towns around the world whose names begin with the Spanish word for saint, "San." That's certainly true in the United States, and while various states have their share of such named places, it seems California has some of the more famous, ranging from San Jose to San Diego and San Francisco.

Another California locale sporting the "San" name, however, isn't quite as populated as those large cities, and currently has a population south of five thousand people. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that San Andreas shares its name with a far better known, notorious and potentially quite threatening earthquake fault line.

While the town isn't featured in this week's release of "San Andreas," that ever-shifting demarcation line of tectonic plates certainly is. Yes, even if you haven't see the ads featuring buildings crumbling, people panicking, a tsunami sweeping through the Golden Gate Bridge and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson flexing his mighty muscles, you've probably guessed that a film with that title likely falls into the disaster genre.

And you'd be correct as this pic follows in a long line of movies -- including the most obvious predecessor, 1974's "Earthquake" (one of the few films presented in bass-rumbling, foundation cracking Sensurround) -- where nature unleashes bad things on the populace in pure cataclysmic panache.

While the special effects featuring such mayhem are top-notch and many of the action scenes featuring them are intense and well-done, there's a part of me that doesn't really get into such grandiose death and destruction as I once did. Maybe it's just getting older and seeing too many examples of the fragility of life.

Then again, it could be the preponderance of video footage of real-life such disasters, including recent tsunamis over the past decade that showed the real-life toll on both people and property. Whatever the true reason, some of the scenes in the film -- directed by Brad Peyton from a script by Carlton Cuse -- hit too close to reality and thus lose some of their cinematic, escapism allure.

That said, when the filmmakers take such mayhem to an absurd level and then pile on the dangers and obstacles -- such as when Johnson and Carla Gugino's characters try to race up the front face of an immense tidal wave only to encounter a cargo ship, its propellers and falling cargo containers in their way -- the film finds the right sort of guilty pleasure tone and appeal.

When they decide to allow viewers a breather and take a break from the large-scale disasters, however, things don't always go as smoothly. For instance, take Johnson and Gugino's husband and wife discussing their previously failed marriage all while heading from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their daughter (not minding that he's AWOL from work as a L.A. Fire Department search and rescue team commander, in one of their choppers no less). It feels forced and shoehorned into the proceedings in an all-too-obvious and fairly clunky attempt to give the characters some humanity.

More successful are the early cute bits featuring Alexandra Daddario playing their daughter who meets a cute boy (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) applying for a job at her apparent future step-father's firm, and interacts with that Brit's chatty and funny younger brother (Art Parkinson). But just when that seems like it's going somewhere fun, the demands of the genre dictate that the rumbling start again, or that said would-be step-father (Ioan Gruffudd) do another dastardly deed to prove that Gugino and Johnson's characters need to get back together.

To do so, however, they must contend with their chopper going down, a chasm in the road to San Fran, the need to tandem skydive jump from a borrowed plane, the aforementioned tsunami ride and a shaken and rattled city that makes the past earthquakes there look like little more than the effects of a loud truck driving down the street.

If you like your death and destruction done in the vein of Irwin Allen or Roland Emmerich, you'll probably enjoy all or at least the parts of the film that showcase such cinematic mayhem. If you're looking for anything deeper than that, however, you might consider shaking, rattling and rolling yourself into another theater. "San Andreas" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 26, 2015 / Posted May 29, 2015


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