‘San Andreas’ has plenty to fault

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For Digital First Media

Extending for 800 miles through California, the San Andreas Fault is created by  tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. It passes near both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Imagine if these tectonic plates shifted and caused a massive earthquake. That might make for a potentially exciting movie.

That is if the film had a decent screenplay, acting, and direction. Alas, “San Andreas” has none of these attributes.

Ray Gaines (erstwhile WWE star, Dwayne Johnson) is a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter rescue pilot. He’s been credited with more than 500 documented saves. Ray supervises a chopper crew that had served together in Afghanistan.

In an opening scene, a young female motorist, Natalie (Morgan Griffin), goes careening off of a twisting mountainside road.  She and her car are suspended precariously from a cliff side perch.

Of course, Ray and his boys rush to the scene just in time to rescue her. All of this is captured by a television news crew, who are onboard, to capture a typical day in the life of Ray and his crew. How convenient.

After making a point of how close Ray is to his crew members, all of his subordinates are unceremoniously jettisoned from the film. It is an early indication of the sloppy screenwriting by Carlton Cuse. Heretofore, Cuse has been best known for his work on television shows such as “Lost” and “Bates Motel.”

Next, we meet Ray’s wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), and their college bound daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Although Ray and Emma are separated, they seem to still be quite chummy. So, Ray feels blindsided when he is served with divorce papers. Then, he learns that Emma and Blake are about to move into the sprawling mansion of wealthy real estate developer, Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd).

At some juncture, we learn that Ray and Emma lost their other daughter, Mallory, in a drowning incident. While she was on a white water rafting expedition. Mallory had been sitting next to her dad. Then, she fell overboard. Ironically, Ray has rescued more than 500 strangers, but couldn’t save his own daughter. This salient fact seems to inform the deterioration of Ray and Emma’s marriage.

Cal Tech seismology professor, Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), has been trying to warn everyone that a giant earthquake is imminent. Unfortunately, both government honchos and the public are refractory to his caveats.

Hayes and his colleague, Professor Kim Park (Will Yun Lee), venture to the Hoover Dam. There, they are investigating models for predicting earthquakes. Guess what happens while they are conducting their research?

As a state-wide earthquake is rocking California, Ray commandeers a municipal helicopter and abandons his job as a fireman. Instead of discharging his official duties, he embarks on a personal mission to save his wife and daughter from peril. “San Andreas” studiously ignores the ethical aspects of this dubious decision.

Following up on “Return to Witch Mountain” and “Faster,” this is the third time that Johnson and Gugino have teamed up. You might think that by now, the two would be able to convincingly convey some sort of interpersonal screen chemistry. Unfortunately, this is not in evidence here.

The film is directed by Brad Peyton, who previously helmed “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.” He demonstrates little expertise in this role. As a consequence, “San Andreas” is egregiously devoid of any sort of human scale, narrative trajectory, or decent pacing.
San Andreas” is full of horrendous expository dialogue. Professor Hayes is supposed to be an erudite and articulate academician. However, as buildings crumble around him, he is reduced to spouting inane lines like, “This looks bad.” Really? Did you figure that out all by yourself or did one of your graduate students explain to you that a grade 9.6 earthquake is no joke. I lost count of how many times that Emma shrieked, “Oh my God!” However, all this is eclipsed by a closing line that ranks as one of the worst in all of Hollywood history.

“San Andreas” is a film that has plenty to fault.

*1/2 PG-13 (for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language) 114 minutes. Warner Brothers 

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.



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