The less said about the idiocy that is San Andreas the better. No, seriously. Don't get me wrong - when disaster porn is halfway decent, I'll gladly own up to the guilty pleasure of watching Hollywood invent outlandish catastrophes to unleash on a cast of troupers making the rent money (Airport '77 anyone? The Poseidon Adventure?) But ever since Roland Emmerich brought the genre back and jumped the shark with the utterly laughable 2012, it's clear disaster films have pretty much fallen on hard times. True, not that they've ever been that good; but there was something intriguing in watching producers like Irwin Allen and Jennings Lang trying to reclaim the concept of big-budget spectacle by super-sizing TV-level soap opera mosaics with added visual effects.
It worked for a brief period of time - the highpoint is probably The Towering Inferno, carried by the can't miss-combo of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen - but we're 40 years later and Dwayne Johnson, as nice a guy and sympathetic an actor as he is, is nowhere near the same league. Not even Paul Giamatti, roped in to do his usual sterling supporting work and cash the paycheque, can save this piece of utterly cynical disaster porn where the visual effects don't seem to be the only thing computer-generated. Of course, you don't expect stellar writing and Oscar-quality performances from a disaster movie, especially when it's clearly coming from a B-team. But Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse's scripting is so self-obvious it comes close to parody, and his overlaying of the classic "comedy of remarriage" tropes to spice it up turn out to be entirely inappropriate.
The film posits a cataclysmic "swarm of earthquakes" running through California along the San Andreas Fault, destroying Los Angeles and San Francisco. It also posits that Mr. Johnson, playing a L. A. Fire Department helicopter pilot, joins forces with his ex-wife Carla Gugino and takes off for San Francisco to look for and reunite with the couple's teenage daughter Alexandra Daddario. It's all so predictable, throwaway and humorless - not even Mr. Johnson's trademark levity improves things - that it becomes disheartening to see a film that has no art or inspiration at all, that is a mere mix-and-match series of Lego bricks assembled in a purely functional way with one single goal: to serve as the pretext for another demonstration of state-of-the-art visual effects. However, by itself, that no longer cuts it in these days where state-of-the-art visual effects are no longer wow-inducing.
San Andreas is nothing more than a carny attraction that attempts to put lipstick on a rickety pig and pass it off as the bearded woman, but never manages to convince.
USA, Australia, 2015
Cast Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti
Director Brad Peyton; screenwriter Carlton Cuse, based on a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore; cinematographer Steve Yedlin (colour, widescreen); composer Andrew Lockington; designer Barry Chusid; costumes Wendy Chuck; editor Bob Ducsay; effects supervisor Colin Strause; producer Beau Flynn; production companies New Line Cinema and FPC in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment
Screened June 11th 2015, NOS Alvaláxia 6, Lisbon, distributor press screening