This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 31st May 2015
This excellent disaster movie caters to the voyeur in us all – or, at least, those of us who were spared the nightmarish experience of our recent homegrown earthquakes – by giving us front-row seats at the spectacular large-scale devastation of California.
Thankfully, holding our hand and saving the day is Dwayne Johnson, one of Hollywood’s most reliable action heroes and an actor of surprising nuance. San Andreas is elevated further above the genre by the canny casting of Paul Giamatti (once Sideways, now everything of note) and a surprisingly good alumnus of Home and Away, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who dons a fine English accent and helps to break the film out of being just another American-feeling movie about America getting pummelled. (There are Welsh and British actors in the ensemble, too, and even a strange cameo from an Aussie popstar – a sign Hollywood is becoming pleasingly cosmopolitan.)
Despite the bog-standard disaster set-up (devoted divorced dad who works for Fire & Rescue; ex-wife moving on; plucky daughter in tight jeans), the action is absolutely thrilling from Go to Whoa. A terrifically nail-biting opener sets the scene for nearly two hours of literally jaw-dropping moments as San Francisco and Los Angeles take a beating from Mother Nature. Better yet, Giamatti’s seismologist harbinger delivers his doom-ridden clichés with a straight face and absolute commitment – a tone also carried by Johnson even as he is established as the bicep-bulging hero who’s “Just doing my job”.
The subject is one which may sit a little close to home for New Zealand audiences, but while one isn’t gloating at the American devastation, it’s impossible not to feel awe. Usefully, Giamatti reminds us to “Drop, Cover, Hold” as he pulls a colleague away from the doorframe and under a table. (Thank goodness the movies can teach us something.)
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, San Andreas is hugely exciting and utterly enjoyable. Better just make sure you’ve got that tin-opener in your civil defence kit.