I’m not proud of this, but I have a deep, deep commitment to seeing every film in the theater in which Los Angeles is destroyed, eaten, flattened, devastated, invaded by aliens or burned. As a former Southern California resident (not native), I find it tremendously cathartic to watch areas where I spent collective days of my life stuck in traffic or damned to “I MISSED MY EXIT” hell. All of this explains why I was at the first Friday morning showing of Dwayne Johnson’s new disaster film: San Andreas.
The disaster movie genre suffered a bit of a market crash after we ran out of creative ways to revel in the destruction of the earth, but it had a solid run of a decade’s worth of crappy films kicked off by Independence Day. San Andreas is very much a boilerplate disaster film; not so much in that run that followed films like ID4 and Twister, but hearkening back to the previous wave of disaster films in the 1970’s like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure.
I think, at this point, Dwayne Johnson has done enough acting and has become a talented enough screen presence that I’m going to stop referring to him as The Rock. This is Johnson’s movie start to finish and he does a very capable job in leading man status. He’s not bombastic or over-the-top; he’s a family man and a rescue specialist for the LAFD and just very good at his job. Johnson, unlike most professional wrestlers who try to make the jump to movie star, has actual acting talent (particularly fantastic comedic timing for which he hasn’t found the right vehicle beyond playing Agent Hobbs in the Fast & Furious series). He’s supported by Carla Gugino, who I don’t think I’ve seen since Watchmen, and Paul Giamatti, who is picking up a paycheck.
As per the disaster movie norm, there’s not a lot to the plot of the film. The MacGuffin is Johnson’s daughter who is trapped in San Francisco during a series of disastrous earthquakes that cripple Nevada and California (though lives are saved and dramatic tension is heightened by the convenience that Caltech seismologist Paul Giamatti has cracked the whole “predicting earthquakes is tricky” issue just in time for things to start falling to hell).
All in all, this is a very average movie and another that is destined to be on Netfilx in a few months, but it could be positioned to exceed expectations. With Avengers 2 and Mad Max 4 fading after weeks of release and Tomorrowland bombing, San Andreas has a chance to grab a lot more attention than I would have thought. The film had a modest (for a disaster summer blockbuster) $100 million budget so it could end up being a sleeper hit. That would give Johnson his second success in three months and maybe pave the way for him to finally get a great script that shows what he can do as a comic actor (watch him guest host Saturday Night Live if you don’t believe me).