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Capone says SAN ANDREAS is a greatest hits package of disaster movie death and destruction!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

If you think too hard about what's really going on in director Brad Peyton's SAN ANDREAS, you'll likely realize just how fucked up the plot is. Dwayne Johnson plays Ray, a L.A. Fire Department rescue-chopper pilot so daring and effective that when we meet him, he's being interviewed by a reporter (Archie Panjabi of "The Good Wife") about his job...while he's actively rescuing a motorist trapped in her car on the side of a cliff. But when "The Big One" hits the West Coast, Ray focuses all of his rescuing skills on only two people: his soon-to-be ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Sure, he saves a few other folks in the process, but that's only because they're in his line of sight while he's attempting to rescue his family. That's messed up, and also wildly entertaining.

With a screenplay by frequent "Lost" and "Bates Motel" writer Carlton Cuse, SAN ANDREAS is pure Hollywood spectacle and a ride worthy of the most ambitious theme park. But it also incorporates elements that demonstrate the best and worst of what disaster films have to offer. I was straining my brain to figure out why it was important that Ray and Emma are in the midst of a divorce. We're given a whole back story about them losing another daughter to drowning years earlier, and Ray never confiding in his wife about how devastated he was by the incident. But they still seem close, and when the earthquake shit goes down, he's the first person she calls, not her new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Daniel is sort of a royal prick who builds tall buildings as a developer, and I guess he's the closest the film comes to having a bad guy (he abandons Blake, trapped in a car, when the shaking starts). But once he flees the structurally unsound parking garage, we barely see him again—except to witness his karmic punishment.

But the dead child subplot and resulting crumbling marriage gets far more screen time than is necessary, and it feels like director Peyton (JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE and the upcoming Incarnate) is filling time with something that resembles character development, but it's really just padding. The film actually has the necessary downtime thanks to a far more worthy secondary storyline involving a team of geologists led by Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), who is coincidentally also being shadowed by Panjabi's reporter character. Lawrence's team has stumbled upon a way of predicting earthquakes, and is instrumental in getting a great number of people out of San Francisco before it becomes leveled. This may be the movie's way of letting us feel that the body count of SAN ANDREAS might not be in the millions, but we know in our souls it is.

While finding and saving Emma in Los Angeles is fairly easy, locating Ray's daughter is much tougher since she's in San Francisco and cellular service is dead. But Blake, being her father's daughter, knows all the tricks of the survivalist trade, and even manages to save a couple stragglers along the way in the form of handsomely nerdy engineer Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Barkinson). And if you don't think the fact that Ben is an engineer comes into play later in the plot, you don't know how movies work.

These scenes feel less like filler, primarily because Daddario establishes herself as a convincing action hero in her own right. She and Johnson share almost no scenes together, so in a sense, she's co-headlining the action sequences. I won't lie and say it hurts my eyes to look at her, but in a film filled with physically perfect specimens around every corner (I'm looking at you Giamatti!), you get over it pretty quick and are able to concentrate on what she brings to Blake as a genuinely intelligent, resourceful woman who just wants to get back to her family.

But let's face it, the true star of SAN ANDREAS are the repeated, violent geographic episodes that rip San Francisco (hell, most of West Coast) to shreds and spark tsunamis bigger than you've ever seen. The shot you've likely seen in the trailers of the city literally rolling like it's on top of a wave still makes my stomach turn, and the effects in this film are astonishingly good. Quite often when I'm watching films featuring mass destruction, my eyes will go to the corners of the screen to see what's going on and how detailed the effects team got. Everywhere I looked during this film, something was happening—bodies were flying, buildings were fracturing, fire was erupting. The film would almost be worth a second look just to scan the frame for every level and type of destruction on the screen. It's magnificent in its own hyper-violent way.

Despite some of its fluff, SAN ANDREAS is one of those rare films that flew by for me. Clocking in at just under two hours, the film is so beautifully paced and exceptionally entertaining that I somehow never looked at my watch until it was nearly done. That's a rarity for me. I loved seeing Johnson take center stage as the film's dominant force and not get crowded out for screentime, as he is in something like G.I. JOE or the FAST & FURIOUS films. His Ray is stone-cold serious in this one, so there are no one-liners or comedic raised eyebrows here. He's playing this one like a drama, and it suits him. That being said, there is no shortage of ridiculous rescues, physics-defying action, and creative ways to knock down, well, everything. If disaster movies of any era have ever appealed to you, SAN ANDREAS is a like a greatest hits package of destruction. Have fun having your brains rattled.

-- Steve Prokopy
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