My goodwill towards action movies is uncharacteristically strong, partly because of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and partly because I recently re-watched the first “Die Hard.” Because of this, I decided to see “San Andreas,” the newest Roland Emmerich-esque vehicle that is kind enough to remind all of us that our current drought isn’t the only calamity that could befall California, as there’s always the threat of Earthquakes and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, who rampages his way across California in his newest movie.
The movie features Johnson as part of a search and rescue unit with the Los Angeles Fire Department. I would list his character’s name and backstory, but the film only has a supporting character mumble his name during an explosion, so for all intents and purposes the character is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, actor and professional wrestler turned badass. The movie doesn’t disappoint in its use of “The Rock-isms,” as throughout the course of the film, Johnson rips off a car door with his bare hands, incapacitates a mugger by beating him unconscious with his own gun and outruns a Tsunami in a stolen boat. It’s the scene where we’re stuck with Johnson’s boring family or when he has to deal with marital troubles at home that kill the pacing. A better ending would have had The Rock repair the earthquake damage by punching the tectonic plates back into place.
The plot, token as it is, involves Johnson trekking his way from Nevada to Los Angeles to rescue his wife in a stolen disaster relief helicopter. He then makes the bold decision to ignore his duty in helping the millions dying in Los Angeles to instead rescue his daughter and her two English friends all the way up in San Francisco. He steals cars, airplanes and a rescue boat to meet his own ends, with his thefts becoming so ridiculous I partly expected him to save his daughter at the end by showing up in the Goodyear Blimp. The film does try to backtrack a bit by showing him rescue a handful of people by guiding them away from a burning building, but his selfish nature is already established. He was willing to let a stranded, elderly couple perish on the side of the road until he realized he needed to ask them for directions.
There’s also some token side plot about a scientist trying to find a way to predict earthquakes and warn the populace. It never goes anywhere or reconnects with the main plot involving Johnson, so it barely deserves any mention besides these two sentences.
I feel I should clarify my score at this point. This film is incredibly, irrefutably stupid. Characters communicate entirely through action movie cliches and grunting. Johnson and the other four-person cast all have regenerative properties equivalent to Wolverine’s, as they’re able to survive 15-story falls, explosions, helicopter crashes and hold their breath underwater for over 10 minutes. All of the movie’s attempts to build narrative heft consist of playing a distorted laugh track over some shaky cam shots purported as flashbacks. It’s also awesome, as I’m sure that in some top-floor office in Hollywood, between shovelfuls of cocaine, two executives asked the bold question “What if we made ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ on the west coast?” Their drug-fueled delusion was eventually made into film, and it doesn’t disappoint in its spectacular dramatization of human suffering, as both Los Angeles and San Francisco are destroyed over the course of the film.
That being said, the film is also fun. Whoever was tasked with writing the screenplay saw what the film was trying to do and ran with it, jumping the shark in a commandeered yacht by ramping off a tsunami created by Hulk Hogan belly flopping into the ocean. The whole spectacle is so inept and ham-fisted that it becomes comical, and I laughed the entire way through the screening. I was able to stay immersed throughout most of the film as I watched The Rock punch and grapple his was across 700 miles of California in 90 minutes. I did lose immersion in two parts though, as the film posits two impossible scenarios: that Californians would actually be alarmed by an earthquake and that FEMA would be able to mount a competent disaster relief effort.
A lot of my enjoyment of the film required my own personal input, and my girlfriend and I had a great time giving a running commentary of the film as we chortled in the back of the theater. My personal favorite was “it must be an Italian cruise ship” when the camera panned around San Francisco to show a yacht that had embedded itself in a skyscraper. Or “seawater can’t melt steel beams” when the rising ocean waves inevitably cause every structure in San Francisco to collapse. I never claimed to be a good person, don’t judge me.
In the end, I find myself conflicted between giving the film a zero because of its sheer incompetence or giving it a five because of its hilariously sheer incompetence. I settled on two because besides my enjoyment, the film can’t stand on its own merits. I will leave you with this however, as it serves as a perfect swan song for the film. As the American flag unfurled over the ruins of the Golden Gate Bridge, the sound of American resilience thoroughly baffled the two English members of the five-person cast.
Rating: 2 stars