RIORI Redux: Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” Revisited

The Players…

Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung, with Oscar Issac, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn.

The Story…

Wrongly institutionalized after an accidental killing, a young girl known only as “Baby Doll” is slated for lobotomy. She’s nuts. She creates her own reality. She had nothing doing will denying her lecherous, drunken foster uncle getting cut out of the will. Nothing.

Baby Doll isn’t taking this lying down (so to speak), and naturally and aims to escape her prison as well as take a bunch of her fellow young female inmates along for the ride. But a ride it is, especially when Baby and her buddies have to dance their way out and in of her mental phantasms.

Wait, what?


So here we are.

This was supposed to be the 100th Installment here at Good Ol’ RIORI. Truth be told, what with me manipulating the structure of the so-called “volumes” here, we passed that landmark, like, fifty Installments ago. Weren’t you keeping track? I barely was. The snowdrift of mediocre movies I scrambled through has left my head a tad hazy. Too much underrated exposure to Aaron Eckhart and/or Scarlett Johansson I guess.

Instead, I’m opting to review and overhaul the first 17 Installments—the so-called Volume 1 of RIORI—for your viewing pleasure and mine own edification. The first volume consisted of posts on FaceBook. Basically extended screeds until I got wise and created a WordPress account to little fanfare. At first. I just cut-and-pasted my crap onto WP pages and figured that’s that, and went on to clamber up higher cliffs.

However, it always chafed me that the first “volume” here was a such a raw and naive attempt. The posts were too short, sophomoric and responding to the NOW culture that social media cultivates. In short, I was dumb and in a hurry. Why? Like all avid, would-be blogging Hemingways I had a message to spout and an ego to feed. And let’s face facts, FaceBook posts and blog posts are the same thing: ego massage. We all think our innermost opinions are an essential, Wikipedia-esque vitality the ‘Net needs. Hence the proliferation of funny cat videos on YouTube. I enjoy them too. Give in to the guilt.

At time of this pressing, a few months back on the Cooking Channel, food geek and scientist Alton Brown wisely decided to escort himself away from the role of game show host to get back into the kitchen. Being a cook, his Good Eats series was de riguer viewing through the aughts. The show was a treat, even if you weren’t some aspiring foodie (read: culinary snob in training). Brown’s witty discection about cooking worked on a Mr Wizard cum Kids In The Hall level that was entertaining as well as educational. Good TV overall, as well as scarce. Bam!

The aforementioned few months back involved Brown in “reloading” episodes of his original show. Correcting mistakes, tweaking formulas, adding new recipes and cleaning out his decade old erlenmyers stained with glace. That’s what I’m gonna do here: flesh out the bare bones that made this blog such a limping success. I think it’ll serve both as a revue of those heady days back in 2013 and an intro to all my new FaceBook followers to the glorious pile of cowpies I’ve had to scoop up over the last 6 years. Remember social media: fluff the ego.

So now, a hundred-plus Installments under my belt, and have since learned that deeper delving into a mediocre movie oft requires more than two paragraphs and a slump home, I’m gonna upgrade those lowly first 17 Installments. Polish them, groom them, apply mascara and hopefully expound upon my grand experiment. This time employing spellcheck and be naked of hubris.

Well, just mostly naked.

Here we go and here we try…

The Rant (2013)

Horror master Stephen King once wrote in his Bare Bones memoir that one of his biggest and earliest fears was losing your mind. Going insane. Having the cheese fall off one’s cracker. He did admit that the fear was viewed through naive eyes. One does not lose their minds in one fail swoop, like on an episode of the Twilight Zone or something. King addressed the process of going mad brilliantly in his classic, The Shining. As it became with Jack Torrence, psychosis happens across a continuum, develops like a malign dream, is a sickness. Insanity is not like breaking a limb, sudden and immediate. It’s deliberate and slow. To quote Riff-Raff, “Madness takes it toll.”

Apparently no one told writer/director Zack Snyder this.

It seems after Snyder’s sudden and runaway success with his 300 he earned carte blanche to indulge his cinematic id. Shoot a movie that popped from his fevered imagination fully-formed like Zeus’ siblings from Cronos’ cloven skull. One with even more spectacle than the crimson Battle of Thermopylae could deliver. A phantasmagoria of dragons, ninjas, robots, fighter planes and of course, girls with guns. The hallucinations of a diseased mind hyped up on truck stop speed and espresso.

Behold the opus that is Sucker Punch.

The title alone says something. An unfair blow to the gut. That’s more or less what this film delivers. It meets the standard of poor reputation, sad box office draw, critical lambasting and naturally going way, way over budget. So begins the inaugural installment of RIORI. Hooray!…

…*tumbleweeds roll across webpage*

Plot make any sense yet? There’s a plot? Is one even necessary? If the above sequence of events seem disparate from a single film, you’d be wrong. It’s more or less how Sucker Punch plays out. All at once. That rigmarole is a single film, one and the same.

WTF? Uh-huh. Yeah.

Sucker Punch has got to be one of the most demented sci-fi/fantasy/action hybrids I have ever seen (as if I’ve seen many sci-fi/fantasy/action hybrids at all).

The story is inscrutable, the acting both entrancing and repellant, the sets off-the-wall amazing and depressing and the F/X so beyond over the top you cease to have a suspension of disbelief. You have to go with it because otherwise, if you think about what’s going on too much, your brain would pop and spurt out of your ears like so much hot cerebral tapioca.

In short, Sucker Punch is awesome.

Sometimes you just wanna be entertained. Sometimes you need a big old guilty pleasure to make the day ease by a little smoother. Sometimes you feel like having your senses and sanity assailed, whipped with a cat o’ nine tails made of cobras wielded by a nude, immolated dominatrix that can juggle chainsaws, do origami with her toes and has a PhD in metaphysics whose name is Sheila. This is the movie for you.

Say what you want about Snyder’s infamous cinematic flair for visually going over the edge, he’s damned good at what he does. Punch has got something for everyone, except much consistency, substance or sense. The movie’s nothing short of utter nonsense, relying almost totally on the applesauce that usually complements a film’s key components like plot, acting, three-act structure, catering, etc. Epic special effects and big stupid surround sound eruptions. Martial arts and trench warfare. Robots and rockets. And of course, girls with guns in skimpy/tight outfits. Not to mention also that this film was dropped at the beginning of spring, before God, when most filmmakers are just putting out dandruff made last year. What balls it takes to make a film that is completely devoid of all the niceties and pretensions of polite, professional cinema. It’s oddly refreshing and to a lesser degree…quite mature.

I know. Calling out Sucker Punch’s execution as mature seems like a lot of hogwash considering Snyder’s debut was the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead. Almost all of the Living Dead movies (save the original) are nothing more that puerile exercises in adolescent salivations for gore and mayhem. But to just toss everything out the window, simultaneously hurling sh*t at a wall just to see what’ll stick is a stance of defiance that only the most courageous, confident and maverick filmmakers command.

There is a ridiculous amount of heavy-handed symbolism, granted, as if even the most water-headed filmgoer can hitch a ride and take it all the way to the end of the line. Such handholding can come across as insulting at best and sturdily mawkish at worst. Such sophomoric storytelling is usually accompanied with a three season deal for a reality show on some Fox network, usually resulting in a book deal with Snooki (oops). Such rampant juvenilia usually hawks a big gob at any sane movie watcher. And yet, it does take guts (maybe not much brains) and a self-assuredness that only comes with a measure of wisdom. It also takes being stubbornly attached to your vision, no matter how myopic it may seem. In sum, Snyder is f*cking crazy. Bold, but f*cking crazy all the same.

Enough pontificating. What made the movie so “awesome?” Well, beyond the visual and sonic treats there’s…uh…nothing else really. The plot is wafer thin, moving along like sludge, only in place to be used as a medium to bounce from a scene of action, titillation, more action or another sequence that hopefully results in a lot of sh*t going kerblooey.

And the acting? Who cares? Only Jena Malone and Scott Glenn have any real acting chops. You might remember Malone portraying Jake Gyllenhaal’s girlfriend in Donnie Darko. She’ll be in the forthcoming Hunger Games sequel too, and possesses both earnestness and sass that works pretty well with her character Rocket here in Punch. Glenn’s been all over the place, known for playing grizzled characters, like Jack Crawford in The Silence Of The Lamba and Capt. Mancuso in The Hunt For Red October (guy seems to like working with Hollywood adaptations of novels). I enjoyed Glenn’s goofy cameos in the film quite a bit; an anchoring factor in a film that is always threatening to come off the tracks. Other than those two, the rest of the cast is only there to look pretty (they succeed. Duh).

The cinematography was mounted on a careening roller coaster. Very well, I might add. Nothing stays still for very long here in the world(s) of Punch. It’s a very, almost exhaustively kinetic film. Two hours freaking jet by watching this travesty. The frenzied action scenes are only interrupted by the “B” plot of the girls trying to flee the bordello/asylum/Babydoll’s ailing mind/who the f*ck knows awash in greys and silvers and a lot of dour expressions, an ethereal “reality” invading our crack-addled amusement park. This tries to be congruent and symbolic of the “A” plot, or is it the “C” plot? Christ, I couldn’t keep track. If this is Snyder’s attempt at auteur filmmaking…

Forget it. I should just stop trying. There are no redeemable “serious” filmmaking machinations at work in Sucker Punch. The only constant in the film is that there is a whole winking and nodding aspect of the feature that repeatedly shouts at you, the audience, are in on the whole messy jest. The unfortunate part is that the joke is without a punchline. Snyder gave us nothing to hang onto. Again, was that the point? The whole movie was pointless.

And rising above all this degradation was a solid two hours of entertainment.

At any rate, all this overly elaborate editorializing may fly in the face of what I’ve been rambling on about for the past few minutes. Maybe Punch wasn’t intended to be the masturbatory effort Snyder barfed out, rife with neon symbolism, feminine fantasies, an examination of mental illness and hallucinations of sphinx-like splendor. Maybe all Snyder wanted to do was deliver shock and awe. Visual and sonic bombast. A manga come to life. Scott Glenn in period garb. An excessive blow to the senses. Maybe stuff like that.

Sometimes that’s all you really need to be entertained, I suppose.

Rant Redux (2019)

When I re-read this pastiche, I was actually kinda surprised my “economy” of words summed up pretty well the essence of Snyder’s fever dream. I guess now that sometimes less is more, especially the face of the f*cking huge undertaking Sucker Punch must’ve been. After watching it again, the word big is an apt term for this mind-bending, very entertaining fiasco. Punch was the classic example of form following function, But the actual function was mired in such popcorn existentialism that I must’ve left the masses blind. Here we are, a bit budget popcorn flick that requires further examination. Wrong flavor for this kind of phantasmagoria.

Classic qualifications for a “cult film.” We’ll see if that prediction bears fruit in 2021. Maybe 2029 to be safe.

But yeah, I found that if you read between the stilted lines there was some very real feminist navel-gazing going on there. Not a bad thing. I found upon repeated views that it made the mess more palatable. It is odd to actually dissect a crazy, fantasy actioner like Punch as if deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Okay, maybe not that intense, but to simultaneously ask an audience to go along with this disjointed tale (which may be a manifestation of a diseased mind in abject fear for their sanity. Or not) as well as look for the loose nuts and bolts might be too much of a task for yer average Twizzler gobbler, like me.

The key term for Punch is existential. I swallowed wheelbarrow loads of Sartre and Kierkegaard back in college to recognize the bad faith that resonates in all of us, even in the movies. For the uninformed, the term “bad faith” was coined by none other that Jean-Paul himself; only this very moment matters. What’s past is past and gone. What may be, may be, but unattainable. Only NOW matters, and there is a very thick vein of NOW bleeding throughout Punch. Babydoll’s fate is moments away, but does what went down—no matter how tragic—means nothing now, and what might happen is an unattainable fever dream. If you doubt me, examine the editing (if you can with that salt and fake butter on your lashes).

I feel it is now time to admit that I’ve presently mastered the art of spewing bile and bullsh*t in equal doses. See what a difference six years make? You’re welcome.

At its heart, I think Punch is indeed akin to an existentialist play, one that navel gazes about being and nothingness, what it means to be human and its frailty and the price of true freedom. I know, heady sh*t from a Snyder film, but if you take the longview virtually all of Snyder’s movies question the human condition and what exactly is that anyway? 300, Watchmen, Man Of Steel, even his version of Dawn Of The Dead is about survival as well as maintaining one’s individualism against oppression (okay, Dracula 2000 barely scratched at that, but it did lead to sharper, not necessarily better things). There’s that metaphor careening through Snyder’s output, for good or for ill. It’s only his Punch that such a vision truly gels. And oy, it can be a headache to follow.

Punch is unique in its execution, ignoring the crazy, over-the-top, sumptuously rendered CGI action sequences. No. After watching and considering (and reconsidering) the movie’s flow, Punch tells a non-linear story. But instead of flashing forward and backward again through time (a la Quantum Leap), we go sideways. Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time (sub Babydoll for Billy). The story does trudge along a straight line, but with truly demented road stops along the way. This direction is not as difficult to follow as, say, The Fountain was executed. But once Punch diverges, you have to follow the context. Quickly. Even moreso than Aronofsky’s celestial mindf*ck.

The ozone trips that take place in Babydoll’s psyche/dance routines are all bristling with dire individualism. Seeking freedom, seeking self. Yeah, yeah. Lemme crawls out of my colon and face the sunshine. To be blunt, Snyder was exploring the “feminine mystique” from a guy’s POV. With lotsa booms and lotsa bullets. Lemme explain this in plain terms:

Back in the 1960s, writer and nascent feminist Betty Friedan penned the social examination The Feminine Mystique, questioning why the postwar homemaking women were so dissatisfied with their comfortable, modern convenience lives. Friedan called it “the problem that has no name.” Gender roles on the other shoes, usually wingtips: “What do women want?!?” Even modern women could answer that, but they knew that something was missing in their Better Homes And Gardens idyll lives.

Fast forward 50 years, director Snyder thought he had an answer—maybe a theory not unlike Friedan’s, but with more CGI aggression—and wanted to send a message/spin to arrested development, popcorn-munching Middle American movie goers that not only do women want to display themselves as strong, capable, assertive people but also heroes trying to escape social oppression based on centuries of patriarchal mores and control.

I’m back in my rear again, right? Too bad. You read it, you can’t unread it.

Punch is an over-the-top James Cameron movie, steeped in Snyder’s lack of subtlety. I cite Cameron, that old taskmaster, as a signature of his movies he always has a strong female protagonist. Always. Either some innocent who rises to the occasion or a tough-as-nails female who is still female. Think of his take on Ripley in Aliens, and her foil Vasquez. Or Sarah Connor in The Terminator and its sequel; she’s gets to be yin and yang. Of cast-iron bitch Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss. Or even funny lady Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies. Snyder had a statement to make in Punch, but was bleary-eyed in his execution. Cameron is like a knife. Snyder is like a stapler: I’ll pin a few things up here and there, you tell me what pages made sense. Snyder leaves it up to you…and maybe himself.

This is all a good thing. Really. I’m not bashing Snyder here (not this time) for his subtle-as-neon execution, script or production. Not at all. Punch was very entertaining, and that’s the ultimate goal of all movies. Shoving a erstwhile, CGI manifesto of a cinematic feminine mystique…well, I figure it would confuse most casual audiences. Not to sound any more high-minded than that I have already, but I studied wads of existentialist philosophy in college so I suppose I was inadvertently pre-programmed to enjoy Punch at the outset, even if I didn’t know that at the time. I mean, duh, females can be action heroes while still maintaining  mystique. I’m a guy. I can’t really get that, but I can respect that. Especiallly with awesome action scenes and rather pithy moments of sexy self-examination. Punch overall is a deconstructionist “girls with guns” melodrama. Snug clothes around a healthy female form is also a spoonful of sugar.

Sorry, I’m a guy. Deal with it, ladies of various strengths.

The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: Rent it. I even own a copy of Punch in my hard library, and has fast became a go-to flick when I need an action fix, like with the original Blade or The Matrix. It’s a guilty pleasure and I’m wearing a sh*t-eating grin proudly.

Next Installment…

We continue reconsidering director Zack Snyder’s muse with his take on Watchmen. Think what you may, but do acknowledge he got that project out of Production Hell and into cinematic flesh, warts and all.

For what that’s worth.


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


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.


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.


I’ve always taken a shine to Dwayne Johnson—


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?).