I do like Dwayne Johnson, I really do. The man was layin’ the smackdown and kickin’ candy asses left right and centre when I was an impressionable teenager and thrilling me into the bargain. He has an innate likeability and screen presence which makes even his most tawdry films (I’m glancing in the direction of Pain and Gain) just about watchable whenever he’s on screen. Appearances can be deceiving, but the man-mountain himself genuinely seems like a great guy. I desperately want to like his movies for no other reason than he’s in them, but it’s beginning to feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.
So I find myself in the now familiar, but no less tricky, situation of trying to make the best of another Dwayne Johnson effort. With the best will in the world, and despite Johnson’s best, perhaps even honourable intentions, San Andreas is not good. San Andreas is bad. There is even the possibility, and I am giving this serious consideration, that San Andreas transcends what we might conventionally describe as “bad” and begins to break through into the shady realm of the “so-jaw-droppingly-bad-it-might-actually-be-good”.
The omens were not good at last night’s screening when Johnson’s first spoken line prompted hushed sniggers from the audience. Johnson’s Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot, is being interviewed mid-rescue by a journalist who congratulates his sparkling record as an honest-to-goodness American hero. “I’m just doing my job ma’am” responds Ray with a nod, a smile and an almost suffocating air of modesty.
When what is alarmingly described as the biggest earthquake in the history of the world hits California, Ray must take to the skies in his chopper to rescue, not only his estranged wife (Carla Gugino), but also his daughter (Alexandra Daddario) from the rapidly disintegrating surroundings of both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Meanwhile Paul Giamatti’s Caltech seismologist has worked out how to predict future quakes, but spends much of his free time hiding under a table or complaining that he’s being ignored.
Spectacle is always going to be the deal-breaker in a disaster movie of this kind and director Brad Peyton takes some inspiration from Roland Emmerich by hurling anything and all at the viewer. Skyscrapers come crashing down, the earth is torn and thousands of bodies are tossed, flung and washed away as Peyton rolls out the big guns. Trouble is, Peyton’s San Andreas very much resembles Emmerich’s 2012 and Day After Tomorrow in terms of visuals. Great panoramic vistas of wanton destruction, awash with perfunctory CGI, have the usual underwhelming, lightweight quality to them. There’s little sense of danger as yet another shimmering tower block makes its lifeless way to earth as Dwayne Johnson, accompanied by green-screen backdrop, looks aghast.
An underwhelming sense of spectacle does little to help San Andreas, but it’s the oddly deferential tone of the pretty awful script that elevates the material to the truly abysmal. Everyone involved plays this with an entirely straight bat bringing to mind Airplane! or Peter Sellers’ rendition of A Hard Day’s Night. Unlike recent Syfy offerings like Sharknado, this is totally un-cynical and there is no attempt to be arch or sarcastic. For that reason, the sheer awfulness of it seems magnified to the point where it becomes masochistically amusing to watch, like watching a drunken best man fumble his way through a wedding speech.
Poor old Dwayne Johnson is left exposed, struggling to carry the weight of this literal disaster movie on his broad, loveable shoulders. As the credits rolled at last night’s screening, a mocking cheer arose from the darkened rows of Leicester Square’s Vue cinema. Grandiose and pompous, San Andreas is complete car crash cinema on an unprecedented scale. Despite my affection for Rocky, he can do little to save this disaster movie of disaster movies.
Genre: Action, Drama | Distributor: Warner Bros | Release Date: 28th May 2015 (UK) | Rating: 12A | Director: Brad Peyton | Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt