Thursday, 18 June 2015

Movie Review: San Andreas (2015)

Even though there are a lot of easy parallels to be drawn between wrestling and any other form of televised fiction, it’s kind of surprising how badly the transition from wrestler to full-fledged actor goes for most people. Usually, it consists of a lot of straight-to-DVD action fodder that still keeps the actors in their ultraviolent comfort zones, with only a handful making it to cinemas and even less of that sample being successful; not every film can be the Expendables, after all. But even with all that in mind, Dwayne Johnson, Actor Formally Known As The Rock, has experienced an track record that is far beyond his peers, The Tooth Fairy notwithstanding. Ever since I first saw him act proper in the surprisingly good Get Smart remake, I immediately got why this is: He is one of the few that has successfully managed to translate his on-stage charisma to the big screen, using it to sell whatever dialogue and/or premise he is handed. Hell, as bad as The Tooth Fairy was, Dwayne by no means half-assed it. So, when he was cast as the lead in the latest addition to the natural disaster genre, usually wrought with enough inaccuracies to make anyone question the film’s reality, it came across as ideal casting to help sell the film. But did it ultimately work out? This is San Andreas… and no, as much as I wish he was, Wu Zi Mu is nowhere to be found in this film.

The plot: Seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) has discovered a catastrophic earthquake that is set to hit California, one that will rupture the entire San Andreas Fault. When the event inevitably occurs, helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) has to navigate the ruins of Los Angeles to find his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino), all the while the dangers posed by the earthquakes continue to grow.

For anyone who has ever seen a movie set around a natural disaster in the last few years, you can safely pull out your bingo cards without missing a beat as this isn’t exactly a film that shies away from the clich├ęs of the genre.
  • Nationally recognized landmark destroyed (Bonus points if it’s the Hollywood Sign)
  • Cataclysmic event used to bring together a separated family in more ways than one
  • Needlessly antagonistic step-parent to create a human target
  • Impeccably timed disaster just when everything looks like it’ll be alright again (Best to have a few spots open for this one because it happens a lot)
  • Waving of the American flag in the wind to signify that everything will work out in the end
And that’s just for starters. However, as much as this film can easily be compared to the Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay pedigree in terms of recognizable tropes, there is definite effort shown to at least try to reach higher than that benchmark. For one, it avoids the trapping of focusing on a large cast in the hopes that being scattershot means that you will end up hitting everyone in the audience when it comes to people to relate to. Instead, we get three core groups: Lawrence and his team at CalTech, Ray & Emma and Blake along with forced love interest Ben (Hugh Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson). The pacing of the plot is sufficient so that each group gets their screen time and no-one is shoved to the side, as everyone shown actually contributes something to the overall plot progression. The other big thing to be commended here is that the film seems determined to teach its audience what to do in case something such as this were to happen IRL. Throughout the film, there are small tidbits about getting supplies, where is the best place to go in such an event, what to do in certain smaller situations, etc. Given how the film’s initial trailers had this same PSA notion at the end, in a rather tacked on way admittedly, it’s nice to see that they followed through with that idea. However, I don’t think real-world advice would do much good when it’s delivered in a film that feels this detached from reality.

Time for a bit of subjectivity (I know, big shock) as I talk about my own personal viewing experience with this movie. I saw this film at my local cinema as per usual, and I was placed in a row sandwiched between a few teenage girls and an older couple. Both parties, throughout the film, were making small riffs on the film to each other; this is usually something I get when I go to a screening of The Room, not a big-budget mainstream film. However, as much as I would usually call them out for talking during a movie, because yes I’m one of those people, it fit in perfectly with this film because it is near impossible to take it seriously. The film’s constant reliance on comic relief, primarily in the form of Ollie who serves no real purpose in the film other than to provide awkward laughs, detracts heavily from whatever drama they want to wring out of the characters. There’s a subplot about Ray and Emma’s other daughter and her death from drowning years earlier, but it doesn’t really accomplish anything other than try to veer this train wreck back onto its tonal course. There’s also a large amount of cheese to be found here, not the least of which comes from Dwayne himself who is in full trailer speak mode here, talking as if every single line he’s given is meant to be used in the advertising for the film. This becomes even more hilarious if you pick up on the fact that none of the trailer bait lines were even used in the trailers in the first place. The big slice of the stuff though comes at the very end with the aforementioned flag-waving scene, a moment so hackneyed that I caught myself saying “Oh my god” in disbelief out-loud… only for the woman sitting next to me to agree with it, which only made me laugh harder. I know that there is a place for America Fuck Yeah, but said place isn’t in the same film that is actually trying to be emotionally resonant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s resonated with me for the entirety of the film, but I highly doubt that laughter was this film’s intention during the dramatic scenes. As good as the special effects are, there are only so many slow-pans over the destruction you can pull before we start to realize that you’re desperately trying to distract us from your faults.

All in all, in case I haven’t made it painfully clear already, this is not a film to see alone. Nor is it one to see if you’re expecting entertainment on any legitimate level. I won’t take away this film’s positives, like the attempts at survival information that can prove useful or the excellent effects work, but this is way too goofy at its core for me to recommend as an actual film-going experience. I know that I’ve recommended films as riffing material before, but that advice is no truer here than anywhere else considering I’ve inadvertently been in a riffing session for this movie myself. Either go there with a group of friends or wait for it come out on home media so you can mock in the comfort of your own home, but whatever the case I definitely suggest seeing this movie as an ironic experience. I may have similar issues with Boychoir, but as an overall film there’s more to enjoy with this one. However, even with how much it annoyed me, Far From Men legitimately aimed for and accomplished more than this film ever could, so it ranks just below that.

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