ONE OF THE reasons “Titanic” did so well at both box office and award ceremonies is that director James Cameron managed to find the magic touch. He combined edge of the seat disaster-movie action with a wonderful, brilliantly acted love story that movingly illustrated the pernicious class divisions of the time. The movie has endured. Don’t look for anything like this in “San Andreas”. What Director Brad Peyton (who worked with Dwayne Johnson before in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) offers us is pure, cholesterol clogging, artery fattening, energy sapping, deliciously tasting, finger licking cinematic junk food.
It does what it says on the can: it’s an old fashioned, Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure-esque disaster movie without too much fluff about character development and, ahem, thinking, to bog things down.
And from that first moment when the earth shudders, and a pretty young thing gets trapped in her car, perilously perched halfway down a limitlessly deep gorge, the breathtaking action does not stop. Buildings fall, the earth heaves like a breathing beast, bridges sway and tip over sending traffic jams of cars into swirling rivers, fires rip through skyscrapers lighting up the skies, fleeing, panicked pedestrians are flung into steaming fissures or pummelled by mountainous slabs of falling concrete and a huge ocean liner propelled by the mother of all tsunamis, rockets into the crumbling city
And that’s just the first ten minutes.
At a time like this, who you gonna call?
Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson.
Dwayne, much, much larger than life is Chief Raymond –Ray- Gaines, an LA Fire department helicopter rescue pilot, whose private life (oh so cleverly… so you don’t need too much explanation) channels that of John McLane (that other hero from “Die Hard”): divorced, still with a flame for the ex and with a young, hot resourceful daughter (Alexandra Daddario of “True Detective” and “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters”) in danger (naturally) and falling for a nerdy but steadfast love interest, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt). Coincidentally Ben’s smart-talking younger brother is Art Parkinson, aka Rickon Stark of “Game of Thrones”
Captain Ray must get to where his daughter is (trapped, as you’d expect) in a collapsing skyscraper that’s rapidly sinking beneath the pounding waves of that thunderous tsunami. And nothing stands in his way. By helicopter, light aircraft, parachute, boat and truck, he defies all that a malignant and vengeful, sundering San Andreas can throw at him. Screw San Andreas. Wasn’t his fault. The counterpart to this sleek, Hercules of a man is the short, fat, bespectacled Caltech professor, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti slumming it). The brain to Ray’s brawn. He’d warned them; he’d predicted it; they didn’t listen. He was right. And now, well, they’re all mainly dead. He’s probably looking at tenure.
At a time like this, as the real disaster movie of the world plays out in slow motion (a drying up LA, a spreading ISIS, a widening income gap, a growing refugee crisis, a saber rattling Putin, David Cameron) we need the catharsis of massive disaster that hits hard and is over with in a day (well, maybe not the Nepalese) … with a towering hero to come to the rescue.
And you’ve got to give credit to Dwayne Johnson. He only has two expressions (smiling and stoic). But no matter. His “trust me, I’m coming to rescue you” appeal is so extraordinary that this year alone, between this movie (so far, $300M in box office revenues and counting) and “Furious Seven” ($1.5B, yes billion), this man’s the most bankable movie star ever.
Forget real estate, forget the stock market, forget Clooney. Put your money on the Rock.