Movie Review: ‘SAN ANDREAS’ May Have Its Faults But It Rises To The Occasion

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Bryan Kluger // Guest Critic


SAN ANDREAS | 114 min | PG-13
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson and Paul Giamatti

It’s certainly been a while since we got to sit through an epic disaster film that featured earthquakes, volcanoes, twisters, a giant monster lizard, or even a ‘Sharknado’. Luckily for us, the summer of 2015 has given us SAN ANDREAS, a full-scale earthquake action picture starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. It shouldn’t be any surprise that director Brad Peyton has teamed up with The Rock again for this disaster flick since their previous JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND did so well. Add on LOST writer Carlton Cuse, and you have SAN ANDREAS, the movie that should be able to hold the championship belt at the box office… at least for a week or two.

It was definitely a missed opportunity to not title this film THE ROCK v. EARTHQUAKES, even if it didn’t feature our main hero jumping solo out of an airplane and giving the natural disaster his iconic ‘People’s Elbow,’ while yelling “If you smell what The Rock is cooking,” but I digress. SAN ANDREAS knows exactly what kind of movie it is and commits one billion percent to it. It knows that it wants to be full of action and peril with at least three sides of cheese, complete with funny one-liners, fast close-up pans of The Rock looking at the destruction, and even a wind blown American flag hanging ever so slightly on the damaged rubble.

So, if you’re going to follow anyone in a massive earthquake type scenario, it might as well be The Rock, who plays Ray, a retired war pilot turned helicopter search and rescue pilot in Los Angles (as we see in the first scene of the film that strongly resembles the first few minutes of CLIFFHANGER). Ray is the epitome of the good guy/badass who can rescue and save anyone with a smile on his face– tell a quick joke to make you feel more comfortable, and probably fight three bears with chainsaw hands by himself. This didn’t work at home, though, as his soon-to-be-ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugnio) wants a divorce and has moved in with her extremely wealthy land developer boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).

Emma and Ray have an 18-year-old daughter by the name of Blake (Alexandra Daddario, the beautiful mistress of Woody Harrelson from HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE), who takes a ride with Daniel on his private plane where she meets Ben (Hugo Johnston-Burt), who is applying for a job with Daniel. Ben’s kid-brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) is the smooth-talking comedic relief of the film and is along for the ride through the earthquake, too. Meanwhile, a seismologist (Paul Giamatti) at CalTech learns of a string of mini-quakes around Las Vegas, leading to the big one, which takes out a major landmark.

Carla Gugino and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson fight a crumbling Earth in SAN ANDREAS. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Carla Gugino and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fight a crumbling Earth in SAN ANDREAS. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

He soon realizes this is the precursor for the mighty big one to tear open the San Andreas fault, which happens soon after. Ray is summoned to start rescuing in his helicopter when the major quake occurs and goes rogue to rescue his ex-wife on top of a building, then off to find and save their daughter in another city. Most of the film is spent dodging falling buildings, avoiding sink holes, and a big typhoon as the split family tries to find each other. This is also a great way for Ray and Emma to work on their failed marriage, possibly due to an underused and ridiculous backstory.

That being said, SAN ANDREAS plays out quite well, with plenty of moments that will guarantee to move you to the edge of your seat and have your jaw to drop. It just seems like the earthquake is strictly after Ray and his family from time-to-time, as they can’t seem to catch a break from certain doom. The Rock handles the big-guy-hero with ease and even has a few shots of delivering some hilariously cheesy lines with big musical crescendos.

Daddario and Gugino turn in excellent performances as well, as they are more-or-less put through the ringer more than a dozen times. Second to The Rock smacking the earthquake in the face, the visual effects are all top notch. I know we’ve seen tons of buildings completely fall due to certain Marvel superheroes recently, and we certainly get that here, but it’s the smaller moments that stick with us for longer, whether it be kitchen appliances exploding in a restaurant and setting people on fire, or window glass falling on people from several hundred feet up and slicing and dicing them. That detail was good to see here.

In the end, SAN ANDREAS won’t be up for Best Picture at the Oscars, but it certainly nails this niche genre to a tee with all of it’s impressive action and performances, even if it has enough cheese for a baker’s dozen grilled cheese sandwiches. Highly Recommended!

SAN ANDREAS opens tomorrow.

Courtesy of Boomstick Comics

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.