It’s the script, stupid.
The 400-Word-Review: San Andreas
By Sean Collier
June 2, 2015
San Andreas, the by-the-numbers disaster movie starring Dwayne Johnson, pulled in more than $50 million in its opening weekend. Moving forward, it will fizzle quickly, as the lack of critical support or word-of-mouth will cause the earthquake flick to vanish among mightier summer contenders.
That’s because San Andreas is not that good of a movie. Owing to magnificent special effects and effective performances, it’s not exactly a bad movie, either. In fact, it might have been a lot better.
But that script.
Over more than three years of production, six writers shepherded the alleged story of San Andreas through a series of rewrites. The result is a Frankenstein mishmash of tones and threads, never able to achieve consistency or credibility.
Some of those six scribes — Carlton Cuse ended up with the screenplay credit, and inaugural writers Jeremy Passmore and Andre Fabrizio were listed for the story — wrote a popcorn action comedy, with lead Dwayne Johnson tossing one-liners and performing death-defying helicopter stunts. Others wrote a harrowing, brutal drama, with clear, lingering looks at the anguished faces of people seconds away from violent deaths.
Bit of a disconnect, there.
And few films in recent memory have demonstrated this much laziness — both in a wanton disregard for logic (most key plot developments occur when characters just so happen to be in the exact same space — in a completely ruined city — at the same time) and an unabashed love for cliché (damsels in distress, tearful reunions sparked by tragedy, sniveling rich guys stepping on others — they’re all here).
Johnson, as helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, charismatically carries the picture, but can’t do much to help the writing. Ditto Carla Gugino, as Gaines’ ex-wife, and Alexandra Daddario as their daughter; both do fine work with what little they’re given. (Your token expert scientist is Paul Giamatti, who’s only vaguely interested in the production.)
The real credit is award-worthy special effects work in possibly the most convincing citywide mayhem I’ve ever seen rendered on the big screen. The earth undulates, buildings crumble and landmarks shake into dust in much more convincing fashion than was possible even a few years ago. If New Line had merely insisted that someone with an understanding of story structure took a swing at the script, San Andreas could’ve been something worthwhile; as it is, it’s a sadly-missed opportunity.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark