San Andreas review: 3 earthquakes, 1 tsunami and still The Rock's new film is an earth-shattering bore

Deepanjana Pal

May 29, 2015 07:31:34 IST

If you thought San Andreas is simply a disaster movie, think again. This is (somewhat literally) a groundbreaking movie and not just because of it has three massive earthquakes rumbling through its duration, but because San Andreas may actually be about a marriage rather than natural disasters. The tremors and shifting tectonic plates are actually mere reflections of the emotional upheavals that Ray and Emma must weather as a couple. Because hey, let it not be said that Hollywood blockbusters are calculated attempts to make money and lack heart.

When the fault lines appear in Ray (Dwayne Johnson) and Emma's (Carla Gugino) marriage, the ground shifts beneath their feet (and eventually beneath the feet of everyone in California). The two separate as the fissures between them widen. Emma moves out of their home with their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Ray devotes himself to his job — after serving in Afghanistan, he now works with the Los Angeles Fire Department. And wouldn't you know it, but California and marriage prove to be far more dangerous than Afghanistan.

San Andreas. Twitter ‏@FASTFURlOUS8

San Andreas. Twitter ‏@FASTFURlOUS8

Initially, Ray is up in the air about everything that's happening around him. He doesn't realise what's happening on the ground. This is partly because he's in a helicopter and partly because Emma hasn't told him that she's planning on moving in with her boyfriend. Emma's decision rocks the foundations of Ray and Emma's relationship just as an earthquake rocks the foundations of many a multistoreyed building in downtown LA. Driven apart like the tectonic plates, a chasm appears between them. However, that's not the worst part. The aftershocks of their separation have dire consequences — upon LA and San Francisco.

Fortunately for Emma, even as everything falls apart around her, Ray is there. Airborne, perhaps, but very much The Rock that everyone can depend upon to look monumental and emote about as much as monuments do. Buildings crumple, the earth shifts, rubble piles up and bridges collapse, and Ray and Emma have to figure out their relationship and find Blake, who is somewhere in earthquake-ravaged San Francisco. Along the way, there's a seismic shift in Ray and Emma's relationship and once they settle down, a tsunami of emotion overwhelms them. Meanwhile a more literal tsunami crashes down upon San Francisco.

As may be obvious, the real question isn't so much whether Ray and Emma and Blake will reunite or what will happen to California, but where Ray and Emma's marriage is on the Richter scale.

Let's not judge actors like Paul Giamatti and Archie Punjabi for acting in San Andreas. Inflation is brutal, mortgages can be mortifying and that kitchen/ pool/ garden extension won't pay for itself, will it? Giamatti plays Dr Lawrence Hayes, a geologist at Caltech. He's supposed to be the prophet of doom, the man who has figured out a way to predict earthquakes — it involves tracking "magnetic pulses", which may or may not be a euphemism for how often and for how long Ray and Emma look into each other's eyes — but Hayes spends post of his time looking perplexed in San Andreas.

Throughout the film, he's constantly being shown things. Each time he appears, one extra or another interrupts him mid-sentence with, "Dr Hayes, you have to see this!" One the plus side, he gets to cosy up with Punjabi under a desk, so the role did come with some perks.

While Giamatti is constantly being shown printouts, Johnson's Ray exists to tell us what is patently obvious. He's like a bad radio commentator who hasn't been able to adapt to television — the jokes are cringe-worthy and the observations verge on idiotic. A town is burning, he informs us. Well, yes, that would certainly explain those black spires of smoke in the distance. It's an earthquake, he says, looking down at LA being flattened. A building is about to collapse, he observes on another occasion. No doubt the fact that it was bent at a 45-degree angle was a clue. A tsunami is coming, he tells us at yet another moment, before proceeding to encounter a massive wave of seawater.

It's almost like Johnson's dialogues were the cues for the CGI and visual effects team, which is the only department of San Andreas that deserves applause. The devastation is fabricated expertly. It is, however, a little bit unnerving to note a distinct resemblance between earthquaked San Francisco and the outskirts of Mumbai.

San Andreas could have been the most insensitive release of 2015 for South Asia. Given the recent Nepal earthquakes, a film about earthquakes could have been a two-hour long trigger warning. One can't imagine any studio would have dared to release a film about hurricanes devastating cities in America just about a month after Hurricane Katrina, for example. The first big earthquake in San Andreas measures 8.5 on the Richter scale. In real life, the most potent of the April earthquakes in Nepal measured 8.1. It may have been expected that our empathy for our neighbours and survivors would make us reject San Andreas. Fortunately or unfortunately, empathy is not our forte. We're unperturbed by the sight of earthquakes swallowing people and devastating landscapes despite the fact that there's less than six degrees of separation between us Indians and the Nepal earthquakes.

To be fair, it's not as though San Andreas provokes any kind of emotional reaction other than the occasional giggle and eye-roll. It's flat, formulaic and thorough unthrilling, which is an achievement in itself considering there's a car crash within 10 seconds of the opening credit, followed by three earthquakes, numerous aftershocks and one tsunami. Yet for all this visual chaos, there isn't a single moment that makes you catch your breath. The fact that child actor Art Parkinson is more memorable in a brief supporting role than Johnson as the hero tells you just how boring the characters are. The only element of surprise lies in Andrew Lockington's music. The soaring classical score sounds vaguely like compositions that were rejected for the Lord of the Rings' soundtrack. Close your eyes, and you expect elves to be gliding on screen. Open your eyes and either a bemused The Rock is looking at you or a towering structure is being reduced to cloud of dust and some rubble.

There was actually more suspense in Frank Hoogerbeets' prophecy about a 9.8 earthquake in California, which went viral yesterday. "Have an escape plan ready," Hoogerbeets advised in his video — just as Giamatti's Hayes does in the film — and it's not a bad idea if you've bought tickets for San Andreas.

Updated Date: May 29, 2015 07:31 AM