Screened Out – San Andreas

[two-star-rating]Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexdria Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Paul Giamatti, Kylie Minogue, Hugo Johnstone-Burt[/two-star-rating]

Hang on! Here comes the big one…again…

San Andreas is simply massive earthquake destruction combined with Lifetime-style melodrama. There is not a single, solitary surprise in the cliché-riddled script. Some moments are so cheesy that you’ll wince. However, the devastation is awe-inspiring – people die, buildings crumble, fire roars, water rises, and one hero emerges. Yadda yadda yadda.

Every so often our legend locks his jaw and says things like, “Let’s go save our daughter!”

Personally, I would’ve loved a few really unexpected twists to this familiar landscape. I suppose it’s way too much to ask for three-dimensional characters against all the 3-D special effects.

Johnson is a rock-solid hero. (See what I did there?) He’s an LA rescue specialist flying a helicopter into peril to save citizens. When the “big one” – or several big ones – strike California, Johnson has to rescue his ex-wife (Gugino). Then the parents find out that San Francisco is going to get it even worse; their kid Daddario is there. So the elders pull a Not Without My Daughter and fly north to save the day.

Let’s not even ponder how thousands and thousands of Californians die as Johnson shirks his duties as fire rescue, commandeering public resources to save his own family. That would make him selfish and irresponsible, when we know he’s the hero here.

The effects are really the star of this common disaster flick.

All this is a backdrop for a lot of major catastrophes to make us go “ooo” and “ahh.” Hollywood has been churning out these flicks for years. MGM made them, and Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno) took over for both big screen and TV. Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 continue the obliteration.

It feels like there’s a script program that generates all these stories, though. You just plug in a few bland familiarities (earthquake and hero) and the machine turns out plot banalities.

Of course, Johnson needs some personal tragedy – some demon – he’s fighting. We also have a scientist (Giamatti) who spouts off a lot of scientific stuff and sees the whole thing coming. Add an unlikely love story – Daddario and Johnstone-Burt. Finally, we need a weasel-like villain (Gruffudd) who we wish the worst on.

We need a villain because, really, we want to witness the worst, but we cannot bear it to happen to good people. In these films, we want to face the end times and know the bad people get theirs, millions die, but some core of humanity survives. Love conquers. Heroes rise. A few crawl out of the rubble, fire, and water to rebuild. San Andreas delivers exactly that.


There are many waaay better stories about horrible events and humanity’s ability to overcome them. For more complex – and more realistic – representations, see 2012’s The Impossible or 1993’s Fearless.

If audiences keep getting this same disaster film over and over – just with bigger effects – that’s not just San Andreas’ fault. We deserve better catastrophes.

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