RIORI Vol 3, Installment 21: Brad Peyton’s “San Andreas” (2015)


San_Andreas_poster


The Players…

Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti and Alexandra D’Addrio, with Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Archie Panjabi and Kylie Minogue (of all people).


The Story…

SAR has always been Ray Gaines’ calling. It’s his strong suit, what he’s done all his life. He’s always been good at rescuing those in distress, so long as they’re strangers. Get too close that way and it’s no longer just a job to do, a mission. It becomes personal.

Getting up close and personal hasn’t really ever been Gaines’ strong suit. In fact, it’s his weak spot. It might cloud his judgment when it comes to doing his duty. Lives may get on the line, and the last thing Ray should be considering is what the endangered’s fave Beatle is on an intimate level.

However, following his usual routine for only a mere few hours on duty, Ray’s issues with getting personal are going to get quite shaken up. A lot.

Literally.


The Rant…

It feels like lately at RIORI your humble blogger isn’t being as much of an prideful assh*le as been his custom. I think the degree has been showing, dammit. In it for all I apologize. I apologize to all you sniveling brats who take offense to any blogger trying to refine his delivery in hopes to gain a wider audience. You know, like any entertainer would. And the majority of bloggers are really entertainers gussied up as creative writers and only that. It’s all bollocks. RIORI was created out of a need for this guy to write but also be read. Be creative, earn an audience. I mean, no one raised anything but a cheer when Midnight Oil released Diesel And Dust, not disregarding the Aussie audiences. I only make a point of this because of multiple comments regarding the lessening of venom spat here at. I assume this in response: you can only piss so long on the same patch of grass before it starts to turn brown. Dig?

Enough. Let the folks know they’re out there. Anyway, time for movie sh*t you f*cknuts.

Ahem.

I’ve always taken a shine to Dwayne Johnson—

*screeeeech*

Wait. Before that. San Andreas is—at the time of this post—the most recent mediocre movie slid under the microscope here at RIORI. It ain’t even a year old yet. I only point this out as not any relevance to this week’s movie proper—or even The Standard for the matter—but a practice in Hollywood that I find dismaying (but also inevitable).

When I was a youth, you could guarantee that that summer’s blockbuster would be in a first-run theatre for at least three months. Sometimes if the flick was a big deal hit, say like ET or the original Die Hard it could have an extended release before petering out to second-runs and eventually the endless wait for home video release. That sometimes took up to a year. Be glad you of this generation never having to endure the Bataan Death March of waiting for new releases at Blockbuster to return on a Friday night so you could scoop one up (I’ve been a Netflix customer since its inception, over sixteen years. You Millenials are so lucky).

Nowadays, theatrical runs for new movies are lucky to stay in the cineplex for one month, regardless of their success (or failure). You gotta be quick to catch the latest Hunger Games chapter on the big screen before whoosh. At least you only have to wait three months till you can stream it.

Curtailed theatrical releases are now the norm for—not surprisingly—business reasons. One, it cuts back on piracy, what with the proliferation of smartphone video tech (doesn’t seem to work. It’s how I got my “instant copy” of…well, that’s another story, probably for the FBI). Second it allows Hollywood to jam more movies into the theaters over the course of a year. Churn and burn. Thanks to winnowing attention spans of American audiences, Tinsel Town can score for direct profits that way, rather than wait for the big bucks that roll in with home video sales and streams.

I understand all this, and partially agree with these practices. But I miss the lazy days of summer when I was a kid and didn’t have to feel a match under my ass to catch the original Jurassic Park before the month ran out (bad example; I bought my tix in advance for opening night with that one. Sometime I’ll recount what happened during the show, disregarding velociraptor antics).

Um, where was I? Oh yeah. Welcome to “The Rock.”

Johnson’s a local celeb in my neck of the woods. He grew up where I’m from, light years from his stint in WWE. It should come as no surprise that in high school, Dwayne played football, wrestled and was active in the drama club. All of this came into play when he became The Rock, his macho, humorous and charismatic wrestling persona. It translated well into his movie career, no duh.

That being said, I find Johnson the actor as rather enjoyable. Granted he’s not going to win any awards with his delivery, but his charm, humor and almost self-effacing demeanor can easily win over the most hardened of cinema snobs. Even in his tough guy action mode, he never comes across as some macho assh*le. Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy at the neighborhood summer cookout, bottle of beer in one hand and manning the grill with the other.

I think his likeability stems from both a vulnerability and an innocence. What? This burly dude? A former pro wrestler? Well, again, check out his acting style. Really. Johnson’s pretty relaxed when in front of the camera. At ease in the spotlight and all that. One could make the argument that all those years hamming it up for the WWE prepared him for the jump to the big screen, and I couldn’t agree more. Sure, Johnson’s bread-and-butter in movies have been mostly action hero types (e.g. The Scorpion King, The Rundown, the Fast & Furious movies, etc), but you gotta be a kind of softie to be built like a brick sh*thouse and star as the Tooth Fairy, GI Joe’s action figure come to life Roadblock or an animated astronaut in Planet 51 (okay, it was voice acting, but still). Not to mention Johnson’s roles in family adventure films like the remake of Race To Witch Mountain and the recent nostalgia trap Jem & The Holograms big screen treatment (okay, perhaps a questionable example. Show’s over, Synergy). And if that ain’t vulnerable and innocent, putting one’s literal movie muscle on hold to have a little fun, I don’t know what is. That and he does it better than Schwarzenegger ever did.

This amiable, almost universal appeal makes a lot of Johnson’s otherwise derivative, lame films go down a bit easier. His is akin to my assessment of one of my favorite actors, Sean Connery. I ain’t saying the Rock can outdo 007, but like Johnson, Connery’s made a lot of sh*tty movies, but he’s always entertaining. Also like Connery, Johnson looks like he really enjoys acting, devoid of the pretensions. It’s infectious, really. We all need more movie stars like Johnson. Or Connery, for that matter.

Okay. Now before this becomes some sort of man-crush lovefest (not unlike my questionable fascination with Don Cheadle), I gotta reel it in on a practical level. Johnson’s degree of charm can somewhat sabotage the feel of an entire movie. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it can get to be confusing. Sometimes it becomes hard to separate the quality—or lack thereof—of a movie from the likeability of the stars (refer to my The Day After Tomorrow installment). Sometimes you catch yourself being conned into thinking you’ve seen a great movie, but only able to remember the leads’ performances and forgetting the connect-the-dots, boring plot or the distracting 1.21 gigawatts of blinding pyrotechnics (again: Day After Tomorrow). It takes a bit of discernment to separate the two.

Not that this is always a tough decision. Especially when the movie in question is intentionally designed to just entertain, philosophical musings about the human condition be damned. Sometimes what you want is just a likable leading man and a lot of kerblooey. Sometimes you just want to put your brain on hold.

Check that: need to put your brain on hold. Another viewing of My Dinner With Andre can wait.

So let’s Rock and roll, shall we…?


Just your typical bright day in Southern California. Sunny skies, fresh air, perfect day for drive. Until a minor temblor hits and a rockslide sends your ride off a cliff, wedging it precariously in a very deep chasm.

It’s a good thing that Ray Gaines (Johnson) and his crack rescue team is on hand to swoop in with their chopper and crane your ass out of the jaws of certain doom. Y’know, just your typical day.

When it comes to his job, Ray is the calm, cool character. When it comes to family affairs, he gets kind of rattled. Ever since his marriage to Emma (Gugino) recently dissolved, he’s been forced to play catch-up as a beleaguered weekend dad to his daughter, Blake (D’Addrio). She’s back off to college soon, and his tenuous grasp as being Dad feels like it slipping away. Permenantly.

Permenantly ever since Emma shacked up with the big deal architect Dan Riddick (Gruffud). Riddick’s world-famous designs are renown for being near impervious to natural disasters, not to mention very tech sophisticated. So Emma needn’t worry to want for anything, especially balanced against what meager existence Ray squeezes out. So a trip out to Riddick’s to see Blake doesn’t feel like a typical day in the chopper.

Meanwhile at CalTech, it’s just your typical day in the lab. Esteemed seismologist Dr Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti) and his crack team of researchers have been applying his newest tech to study the latest series of tremors that have been rattling the California coast. Hayes suspects a major earthquake along the San Andreas is way overdue, and figures he and his team should conduct some field research with his new gear to see if its possible to accurately predict earthquakes.

On a jaunt to the Hoover Dam, Hayes and crew discover their readings to be quite accurate. Proven especially when an 8.1 temblor tears the dam in half. And it only get worse from there.

Unbeknownst to Ray half a world away, his job is going to get a lot more hairy, beyond the friction with Emma and Blake. As of recent, Ray’s life’s been torn in half. Now it’s the state’s turn, and Ray races to the rescue of both with the same ablomb as a sense of responsibility allows.

You know, just your typical day…


While watching San Andreas, I couldn’t help from catching me smile in spite of myself.

Heed this: San Andreas is a very derivative, stupid movie. It’s your typical summer blockbuster disaster to rote. The acting is wooden. It’s terribly predictable. The massive CGI collateral damage is the real star over the lukewarm casting. You see everything coming, even the scenes you’ve yet to see. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before, and seen before with much more verve.

Yet I couldn’t help but smile.

San Andreas is not a good movie, unless your 16 years old or less. It’s cheap, dumb fun entertainment. And to say that is the point is a truism. It’s a digitally rendered summer movie, practically genetically engineered to fill your popcorn bucket to eruption. “That’s the point” seems even beneath it.

But I liked it.

The smiling thing wasn’t meant in any ironic sense. You know how some say you need to be in the proper mindset to appreciate a movie? With Andreas, you best have your mind properly wired prior to even hitting the PLAY button. You should plan on wasting time. You best not have anywhere to go for few hours. You want to have your common sense whipped into tapioca. You need this sometimes when seeing a movie, right?

Okay, Puddinghead, here’s the poop.

Despite the fact that Andreas prides itself—nay, revels—in its collateral damage, dopey acting and stale story, it has a certain warmth that’s hard to miss. Sure, it’s a warm fuzzy kept on the down low, if not muffled by the sound editing. Director Peyton is known for family adventure films, like the (seemingly needless) sequel to Cats And Dogs and Journey 2 (also starring Johnson, BTW). That presence is felt here. It’s to be understood that Andreas is kinda lightweight in that regard. I mean, after directing pixelated kitties a second time ’round it would be kind of tough to shed your fluff (I’m not apologizing for the double pun. Deal). This fluffiness, however lends Andreas a certain charm. It feels like a 70s disaster film, minus the overt cheese. Andreas indeed has a corny charm, but this vibe being at odds with the dire circumstances of the movie injects some unintentional humor into the script.

And boy, is there a lot to laugh at. There’s some really flat, pat dialogue. Of course the manic havoc being wreaked, so over the top it’s all too much unless you turn off your brain and give in to laughter. Most of this stuff can be forgiven thanks to Ray as tentpole, though. As usual, Johnson is a smooth operator. His Ray is a walking cliche, also adding to the humor. But it’s all about the delivery. The man oozes charisma, to be sure. It’s what usually elevates a banal movie to something at least watchable. It works here. Ray is a gritty chopper pilot. He’s a caring dad. He still cares for his estranged wife. He rises to the occasion when the latter two are in danger. It’s a family affair, the same for all of Peyton’s movies. It’s also all for rote, but Johnson turns on his old, rocky (sorry) charm and you know everything’s gonna be okay, if not better. Even if his world is literally crumbling beneath him.

Speaking of crumbling, props must be given to the F/X guys. The utter chaos is a feast for the eyes bleary with butter-flavored topping. Again, disregarding the ridiculous destruction, some nice, if not realistic touches were dotted here and there along the rending Cali coastline. I like the fact that during the catastrophic earthquakes not every skyscraper got felled. In a disaster film, wanton chaos is expected. Any excess can become comical. Peyton used a little restraint here. A little, and that I respect if not welcome. It lets in a scintilla of breathing room, almost there to let the audience to take in what’s going on beneath what’s going on. Is there such a thing as tasteful collateral damage? Andreas kinda reminds me of a Godzilla movie, only the prehistoric lizard is replaced by angry tectonics. But the scattering, screaming cast remains.

Yeah, let’s get back to that. I find it funny that such an esteemed actor like Paul Giamatti signed up for this production. I’ve mentioned in the past that Giamatti is one of my favorites, and his acting chops make his Dr Hayes work. His character is like—harkening back the Godzilla metaphor—Raymond Burr’s Stephen Martin, the only sane voice reporting on the all-consuming mayhem from the sidelines. Giamatti’s skills make Hayes’ delivery have some verve. He’s a tonic to Johnson’s mostly even-handed poise. Giamatti is a prickly actor in most of his roles (check out American Splendor and/or Cinderella Man), but apart from the question of “What the hell is he doing in this flick?” (the chewing gum mentality helps here) something tells me the guy just wanted to have some fun. He is fun here in Andreas.

D’Addrio being a relative unknown possessed a very good onscreen confidence. She did well with the hand she was dealt. Despite my somewhat muted raving about Johnson’s steady work here, some note should be given to her performance. I liked the fact that her Blake simultaneously plays girl in distress and anchor. Ostensibly she’s the raison d’être for Ray’s motivations, and yet she stands well on her own (minus a few hack scenes of wayward damsel). There’s a trio of plot lines going on here in Andreas, and I found Blake’s plight (as well as Ollie and Ben’s in tandem) the most interesting. The three actors portray the element of the victims on the ground, trying to survive and get to safety. Like another vaunted disaster film, the three are like the survivors in The Poseidon Adventure. The pacing here is good, swift and economical.

The same can be said of the rest of the film. Andreas wasted precious little time to keep elevating the stakes. Sure, such pacing sacrifices plot development (such as it is), but the editing is good and the film’s progression wastes no time with filler, for good and for bad. There are a lot of technical aspects here to appreciate, if separate from the film proper. There are some arresting visuals, maybe the best thing in the film. Like I inferred, the F/X guys earned their weekly pay with how they conceived the California coastline toppling into the Pacific. Yeah, such stuff screams, “We’re trying to do the ‘summer movie’ thing.” However…well, duh. Andreas is ultimately about the visuals. I liked the aerial shots. The tsunami climb was beyond nuts. Of course San Francisco dissolving into the ocean was the cherry on the sundae. Back to whipped custard viewing practices, this movie is all about the eye candy. Look for anything beyond that (and actually get something out of that), you’re either wasting energy, popcorn or needless logic.

But it’s not just open praise for open season on the Golden State’s foundation. There are some nagging flaws, like that popcorn shell wedged in the back of your teeth. Andreas is lighthearted—if not lightweight—and feels like blockbuster disaster film junior. There really isn’t much meat on Andreas‘ bone. No sh*t, right? True, but its compartmentalized, incoherent story progression can get a bit rough. The rough angles can’t shake off Peyton’s family film style. It’s like if Disney went R. You can take it if, yet again, you don’t place too much weight in emotional gratification. Sure, visceral entertainment pukes freely here, but regarding Peyton’s oeuvre, Andreas is at heart a family drama disguised as an action flick. Thanks to that there’s no true, palpable sense of danger—of urgency—at play here. It’s at odds with the kerblooey nature of Andreas. It might be a minor carp here against all of the carnage, but it’s a real detriment to any movie designed to be an “action/adventure.”

However, thanks to the cool cast and serious visual nonsense, I can give such cinematic merit a pass. All in all, such bitching here is akin to navel-gazing while watching a Sandler turd. You don’t possess a desire to watch a flick like Andreas to later walk away with the heat in your tummy like after seeing, say, GoodFellas or even The Shining. You want a buzz, fleeting and fun. Andreas is big, stupid fun. That’s its purpose. So tune in a drop out.

Right, folks?

Hey…What’s this grey sh*t on the floor?

Eeyeew. Smells like neocortex.

Good work, Rock. That’ll do.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. In a word: kaboom!


Stray Observations…

  • “Close your eyes…”
  • According to its builders, the Hoover Dam’s concrete will take almost a century to fully cure. Not soon enough here.
  • Gruffudd has a lousy American accent.
  • D’Addrio has the most amazing, piercing blue eyes.
  • “Contrary to popular belief, scientists don’t know everything.” Sure, just ask your average Republican.
  • The rearview mirror thing. There goes the past.
  • “I can’t wait to be 20.” Right on, kid.
  • I think I got a thing for Carla Gugino.
  • “Who wants an A in an independent study? I’m starting a new class.”
  • Wait a minute. The sporting goods store Ray crash-landed into. The sign outside read “Ray’s Outdoors.” Quick joke for us attentive morons?
  • I’ve been educated about the “lost child” effect on families. Who wants another s’more?
  • “Where’s you get your hat?” Salute with no irony.
  • “Mom’s going to love her.”

Next Installment…

Who watches The Watcher? I will, and am making no apologies for co-opting my very first “Next Installment” tag here at RIORI (for those fools who’ve paid attention. Get a life, will you?).


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