Disaster movies have been a Hollywood staple since King Kong scaled the Empire State Building, but the formula hasn’t really changed since the 1970s when movies like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure revelled in throwing ordinary people in the path of destruction as experts, bureaucrats and rescue workers tussled about how best to deal with the situation.
San Andreas (12A)
Directed by: Brad Peyton Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti * *
That formulaic aspect wasn’t such an issue when CGI was in its infancy and each new blockbuster brought forth ever-greater levels of spectacle. But now that the visual effects industry has become standardised and anything on the page can be recreated on a green-screened soundstage, perhaps it’s time screenwriters and directors started paying a bit more attention to the stories they’re coming up with to stitch all these city-spilling, people-killing set-pieces together.
If they did, films like new earthquake movie San Andreas wouldn’t prove so simultaneously comical and tedious. The goofy idea behind the film is that the titular fault line behaves like a seismic Mexican wave when it erupts, rippling the ground and ripping apart anything in its vicinity, from the Hoover Dam to Los Angeles, all the way up to San Francisco. Which is not without blockbuster promise. Unfortunately it becomes another excuse for lots of generic devastation and lots characters talking in action movie clichés so hokey you have to wonder how the cast aren’t cracking up along with the CGI ground beneath their feet.
“Who should we tell?” a reporter asks Paul Giamatti’s seismologist after he predicts the devastation that’s about to hit. Cue close-up on Giamatti’s wondrous face. Cue dramatic pause. Cue inevitable response. “Everyone!” he declaims, gravely.
Dwayne Johnson doesn’t fare much better. As an ex-military pilot with the Los Angeles fire department, he’s saddled with customary lines like “hang-on” and “not today” and “breathe, goddamit” as he battles impossible odds to rescue his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and college-bound daughter (Alexandra Daddario) from the catastrophe surging around him.
Anticipating such groaning dialogue does provide some respite from the many grating supporting characters, however, particularly the posh Brit siblings Johnson’s daughter ends up being stuck with after her mother’s rich new boyfriend (Ioan Gruffud) pulls a Force Majeure and abandons her to save himself. Kylie Minogue’s brief appearance as Gruffud’s sister is also a bit odd, though weirdly it proves more memorable than most of the outlandish-yet-bland action, which begins with the artist formerly known as The Rock flying a helicopter into a ravine and ends with him driving a speedboat up a tidal wave as it launches a cargo ship onto the Golden Gate Bridge.
Maybe one day soon these movies will become less hackneyed. But not today.