‘San Andreas’ Is About One Buff Man’s Unstoppable Love For His Busty Daughter In A Time Of Earthquakes

Senior Editor
05.28.15 85 Comments
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Warner Bros

In San Andreas, director Brad Peyton shows us what all those Roland Emmerich movies (from The Day After Tomorrow to 2012) were missing: a jacked superhero to growl one-liners at all the CGI falling stuff. San Andreas is essentially half 3D sizzle reel, half Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and surprisingly effective.

These disaster movies are all about a kind of pumped-up reality anyway — the biggest storm! the biggest volcano! the biggest tsunami! — so casting an actual everyman like John Cusack or Dennis Quaid at the center of them kind of does them a disservice. Are we doing spectacle or not?

Peyton, or whoever made the casting decisions on San Andreas, knows that a movie about a California earthquake “so big people will feel it on the East Coast” (quoth the wild-eyed-but-wise scientist played by Paul Giamatti) is not a time for restraint. Why not cast THE JACKED-EST WRESTLER saying the CHEESIEST LINES to the MILFIEST EX WIFE alongside the HOTTEST DAUGHTER with the AWESOMEST BOOBS? San Andreas knows its resources are best spent on neck veins and heaving cleavage, not on plot twists and third-act reversals. So when The Rock tells a group of terrified bystanders, “Just get up against something sturdy,” he might as well be describing San Andreas‘s storytelling strategy. Just stand next to The Rock, plot device, you’ll be fine.

Mr. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (such a great porn name) plays Los Angeles search-and-rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, a just-doin-my-job-ma’am hero who’s cool in a crisis, kind to kids and kittens, and looks great in a pick-up truck (DODGE!). The most important things in his life are his busty ex-wife, played by Carla Gugino (estranged because he blames himself for losing their first daughter in a tragic whitewater-rafting accident) and his busty daughter Alexandra Daddario, who’s flying up to San Francisco for a volleyball tournament and probably a pillow-fighting contest or some sh*t. When an earthquake hits, or more accurately, Earthquakes (“a swarm event,” as Giamatti hilariously informs), Captain Ray Rock needs all of his skills to save his family. And he’s full of them — flying helicopters, flying planes, driving boats, driving pick-up trucks, skydiving, lifting heavy stuff, looking tough, breathing underwater… you name it, The Rock is your man. And why wouldn’t he be? Look how buff and confident he is! The Rock is essentially the personification of America as it likes to see itself — strong, kind, multi-ethnic defender of good, punisher of evil. Mark my words, he will be president one day.

Of course, to lay everything good about San Andreas at The Rock’s feet would be to deny Brad Peyton and screenwriter Carlton Cuse an impressive level of craft. If making a stupid movie was easy, any idiot could do it. And Michael Bay has been failing at it for years. It’s actually kind of a tightrope walk. A good, stupid movie has to be overtly stupid while subtly smart, offering dialogue you can laugh at along with compelling, if not necessarily believable action. San Andreas has all the cheesy dialogue we love (COLLEAGUE: Who should we warn? PAUL GIAMATTI: … Everyone) along with over-the-top CGI set pieces that are legitimately thrilling. It’s silly and dumb on a macro level, smart on a micro level.

There’s a moment where The Rock and Carla Gugino are racing up the swell of a 100-story tsunami trying to get over it before it crashes. I don’t even remember how or why they got a boat (the basic progression of San Andreas is that each time a weather event happens, Alexandra Daddario loses an article of clothing and The Rock shows up driving a new vehicle) but I do remember that as they’re racing up the side of this water mountain, just when they’re about to pop over the crest, they nearly run into the propeller of a massive container ship. Then they have to dodge the containers as they scoot around it. I mean, it’s not the Keyser Söze reveal, but it’s a clever little twist, an added thrill that fully utilizes the sandbox it’s playing in and adds just enough unpredictability.

I'm not sure Alexandra Daddario playing daughter of Carla Gugino and The Rock adds up, genetically, but I'll allow it.

Warner Bros

I'm not sure Alexandra Daddario playing daughter of Carla Gugino and The Rock adds up genetically, but I'll allow it.

Aside from that, it’s refreshingly simple. The Rock just has to save his ex-wife and daughter, he doesn’t have to solve Earthquakes. And a movie about huge thrills, huge muscles, and incredible breasts doesn’t have to pretend to be a cautionary tale of mankind’s hubris. There’s enough drama in watching Alexandra Daddario’s clothes slowly disappear. First, she’s wearing two tank tops, then one tank top, then the tank top is wet, then she’s underwater, frantically breast-stroking toward the camera. I see what you’re doing here, San Andreas, and I like it. The Ongoing Saga Of Alexandra Daddario’s Tank Top is as compelling as any of the stunts, and a smart screenwriter like Carlton Cuse clearly recognized that time was better spent inventing reasons for The Rock to lift stuff and for Alexandra Daddario’s clothes to come off than on coming up with redemptive character arcs. San Andreas is too much and just enough in nearly ideal proportion. Short of one obnoxious British boy, it was just about perfect. (God, if only The Rock would’ve shoved a crumpet in his mouth and kicked him off a plane).

It’s not the highest praise to say that San Andreas reinvigorates the genre, when that genre is “dumb Roland Emmerich movies,” but it turns out, watching The Rock’s muscles get bigger while Alexandra Daddario’s outfits get smaller is a pretty good foil for CGI.

Grade: B

Neither here nor there, but watching San Andreas in San Francisco, while Paul Giamatti screams directly into the camera about how San Francisco is doomed, was a nice little wrinkle — as if the movie was made just for us, enhancing the whole Universal Studios ride feel. The film also depicts Bakersfield as a town of greedy, opportunistic looters killing each other over flat-screen TVs, which seems accurate.

Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.

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Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator.

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