I have a theory that goes something like this:
There’s this bunch of people locked in a room somewhere in Hollywood blockbuster-land, who are kept in the dark and fed on scraps and are not allowed natural light or real food until they come up with a new idea. These people are not really human, but clones that have been created in a laboratory by splicing the DNA of Michael Bay with that of Roland Emmerich.
So far this year these clones have been unsuccessful in coming up with anything close to an original idea. I know this because I have just sat through not just the dumbest action movie of this year, but the dumbest action movie in the history of the world so far.
It’s what is generally regarded as a disaster movie – and believe me, San Andreas is truly a disaster of monumental proportions that is predictable, ridiculous and cliché-ridden in equal measure. Not only that, and this is one of its biggest failings, it’s po-faced and humourless. And yes, I do know that the San Andreas Fault cracking open and killing millions of people should not be a source of levity, but come on – it’s a known fact that people in extreme circumstances often use self-deprecating humour to take their minds off the (sometimes) inevitable.
I mean, have the people involved in this garbage not seen Die Hard, Speed or Twister? These three movies use humour to lighten the tension and add a human dimension to the characters. Saying that, I suppose there would be no need to lighten the tension in San Andreas because there is none, and the reason for that is because you don’t believe in or sympathise with any of the characters. And why is that, I hear you ask. Well, I think the main reason is the fact that they all seem to have been created by a committee using well-worn, stock characters that have appeared in countless Hollywood blockbusters throughout the years. Let’s run through them now.
- The main character, Ray (Dwayne Johnson), is a divorced Search and Rescue helicopter pilot who is still in love with his estranged wife. Not only can he fly helicopters, he can also fly light aircraft and drive speedboats at the drop of a hat. In fact, he can do anything (including bringing his daughter back to life after she’s drowned), and if the scriptwriters (and I use that term loosely) hadn’t been able to provide a vehicle for him they would probably have given him the power of unaided flight.
- His estranged wife (the usually reliable Carla Gugino) is about to move in with a mega-rich architect, who you are pretty sure will turn into a cowardly arsehole and meet a predictably sticky end.
- His wife’s boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd) is a mega-rich architect who turns into a cowardly arsehole and meets a predictably sticky end.
- His daughter (Alexandra Daddario) has no personality whatsoever, but knows everything about survival, apart from when she drowns, obviously. These survival skills are something which, I assume, she has gained from her father by means of osmosis.
- His daughter’s dead sister (Arabella Morton), who died after she drowned in a white water rafting accident and who is merely a plot device so that Dwayne Johnson, when he’s bringing his other drowned daughter back to life, can say, “I’m not going to let another one die in similar circumstances.” Or words to that effect. I’m not sure what he said exactly because by this point in the film I wasn’t really paying much attention.
- His (living) daughter’s love interest (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), a young British man (and by British I mean someone who is not British but is putting on an obviously fake British accent) who, despite being an engineer, is fairly stupid and follows her like a homeless dog would follow a tramp with bacon in his pocket. He also has an annoying kid brother.
- The love interest’s annoying kid brother (Art Parkinson), a character that is in every film of this kind who you would desperately like to see die in horrific and (preferably) painful circumstances at the earliest opportunity, but unfortunately doesn’t.
- The geologist (Paul Giamatti – what the hell is he doing in this garbage?), an ‘expert’, who uses stock quotes from the Discovery Channel and who is so clever that he always knows what’s about to happen, but doesn’t tell anyone until just after it’s happened.
- The female TV reporter (Archie Panjabi – what the hell is she doing in this garbage?) who serves no real purpose, but to hide under desks and look frightened.
Oh, and Kylie Minogue puts in a totally forgettable cameo performance as the mega-rich arsehole’s disagreeably snobby sister. So, these are the main characters, all rich, WASPish and thoroughly dislikeable, and who bear no resemblance to anyone you would want to care about. Or meet. Ever.
Which brings me to the plot, or lack of it. There is no plot to speak of, just a series of unbelievable escapes that takes suspension of disbelief to a whole new level. I could go on for pages about them, but for your sake, dear reader, I won’t. Instead I’ll just concentrate on one of them.
Ray’s estranged wife is having lunch in a restaurant on the top floor of a skyscraper (where else?) with the mega-rich arsehole’s disagreeably snobby sister when an earthquake hits. She phones Ray, who is about a hundred miles away and who tells her to head to the roof and he’ll come and pick her up. After half-heartedly attempting to convince other diners to join her she makes her way to the roof. Everyone else in the building, I assume, dies. Ray flies to her rescue, ignoring all the other people requiring his assistance (remember, he’s a Search and Rescue pilot), and when he gets there the building is starting to collapse. As she runs toward the helicopter the roof caves in and she falls about six storeys down, but amazingly she survives enough to run up the rubble and jump on to the helicopter.
Now, all this would have been fine if her character had for years been hiding her secret identity of Supergirl from her husband, but unfortunately she isn’t the Man of Steel’s unnecessary cousin. This is a woman who has just come from living the high life of the idle rich and would therefore only ever make such a concerted effort if losing her place at the front of the queue for a Gucci sale were at stake. And let’s be honest here, if you were a Search and Rescue pilot whose wife had (presumably) been shagging this mega-rich arsehole for months and was about to move into his grand house with him, a house, by the way, that you could never afford in a million years on your measly Search and Rescue pilot salary, would you go out of your way to rescue her? I know I wouldn’t. I’d be hovering over her rooftop rescue point in my helicopter shouting, “Burn bitch! You had it coming!”
The scene on the rooftop with Ray and his estranged wife takes place within the first thirty minutes of this CGI-heavy film, and as it plods inexorably and excruciatingly on the situations get progressively ridiculous and unbelievable. It’s all spectacle and no substance, and the spectacle’s nothing to write home about because the special effects are nothing you haven’t seen before in other superior disaster movies. When are the people who produce these insults to intelligence going to realise that CGI effects are not a replacement for a solid screenplay and good acting.
So, that’s the characters, plot and effects taken care of. But what about the dialogue? Well, I know this is difficult to believe, but it’s even worse.
When Ray is whinging on about how he couldn’t save his daughter from drowning (that’s the first one than drowned), his wife says to him, “If you couldn’t save her, Ray, no-one could.”
Really? I bet they could have. An Olympic swimmer probably could have. Or a dolphin. Besides, throughout the film Ray proves that he’s a pretty useless Search and Rescue pilot, choosing only to save members of his immediate family and annoying numpties with fake British accents.
I wanted to include all the bad dialogue in the film in this review, but that would have meant printing out the entire screenplay, and I didn’t have time for that.
The worst chunk of dialogue comes right at the end of the film. Ray’s estranged wife looks at him with dreamy eyes (that’s right, she’s fallen in love with him again because he’s so MANLY) and asks, “What now?” And, as the Stars and Stripes unfurls before him, he replies, “Now we rebuild.”
Yeah, woo-hoo! Let’s take the dumbest film of the year and add a bit of patriotism into the mix to make it doubly dumb. Yeah, come on guys, let’s patriotically rebuild the city on this exact same spot so that it can serve as a constant reminder of all our families that died here and also so that it can be destroyed in the exact same way when the next disaster happens to come along. But let’s be honest here, folks – doesn’t any man dumb enough to have his home built on top of a major fault line and then whinge when all he owns disappears into it deserve everything he gets?
In fact, I wish the San Andreas Fault had split open – and swallowed up every extant copy San Andreas. Preferably about a week ago, so I wouldn’t have had the misfortune of watching it.