San Andreas

Rating:

SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL

Main Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino

Director: Brad Peyton

Star is Born pictures has sent its advance guard off to Palm Springs to ready locations for my spectacular new updated film version of The Desert Song, ripped straight from the headlines and using the expanding Islamic State as its backdrop rather than a Moroccan Riff War that everyone forgot seventy years ago.  There are some extremely picturesque desert mountains just outside of town which should provide an appropriate backdrop for the exteriors and I called in a couple of favors from some of my old Hollywood friends and we were able to rent Bob Hope’s old house for the interiors in the harem of Ali Ben Ali.  My scouts are looking for a suitable location for the military refugee camp and they’ve found an old K-Mart on the outskirts of Cathedral City that might do the trick.  We’re going to have to scramble to get the film on its feet as our budget will only allow us a total of ten shooting days.  My brilliant cinematographer, Mr. Chen, is designing the whole film to be shot in long Steadicam takes so we can polish off a couple of production numbers a day.

Russell Crowe by Danrok

Damn your schedule, man!

Casting the film, other than yours truly in the central role of Margot, has proven a bit of an issue.  Russell Crowe has a scheduling conflict and Pierce Brosnan’s salary request was out of our budget.  My next call was to Peter Dinklage’s people as I feel he is truly a leading man for our time and we can always have Normy dub in the high notes if Peter can’t hit them.  I’m waiting for his people to call back.  I’m thinking perhaps we can work some Game of Thrones references into the script to help build audience.  Maybe have Margot escape from ISIS on the back of a large dragon while singing the Saber Song.   If Peter can’t do it, I may have to go with Judd Nelson who has been lobbying me for years about a suitable comeback project.  For the comic subplot, I’ve nearly got Melanie Griffiths and Mitch Gaylord nailed down.  They could both use the work.   To round out the cast, I’ve got Carr and company, a local Palm Springs firm nailing down local talent for minor roles and crowd scenes and Mrs. Tuttle’s Tapping Tots are going to make a special appearance as the ladies of the brass key.

While taking a quick trip out to the desert to scout locations, Normy and I had to cross over one of the local fault lines.  While looking at geologic strata, I started to muse on the power of geology and plate tectonics which put me in mind of the new film San Andreas which has recently arrived at a dollar cinema near you so Normy and I took a couple of hours out of our day in order to catch a matinee showing.  I have always enjoyed a good disaster movie and this one, an unofficial remake of 1974’s Earthquake which introduced the world to the wonders of Sensurround, hits all of the usual film tropes that make watching thousands of computer generated extras plummet to their deaths such good popcorn fun.

San Andreas stars The Rock, excuse me, Dwayne Johnson, as Ray Gaines, a helicopter pilot with Los Angeles Fire and Rescue who specializes in nail biting rescue missions.  In a brief prologue, we see him do death defying maneuvers with his chopper in order to rescue a pretty young day player whose car has gone off a cliff somewhere in the San Gabriel Mountains.  We then sketch in his family, a necessity to motivate his later heroic rescue actions as he tries to repair a shattered life in shattered cityscapes.  There’s his soon to be ex, Emma (Carla Gugino) who has taken up with a smarmy rich douche (Ioan Gruffudd) and his nubile daughter (Alexandra Daddario) who is on the cusp of college.  There are also oblique references to another, strangely missing daughter, a mystery unraveled as the film continues and which plays like nothing so much as a bad community theater production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Daughter and douche head from LA to SF while Paul Giamatti shows up as a seismologist in order to deliver all of the quasi-scientific exposition so the audience knows what’s going on.

Giamatti has a new way of predicting earthquakes so he and his plucky assistant (Will Yun Lee) head off for Hoover Dam to prove their theories.  Soon the dam is collapsing and Giamatti realizes that LA is next, to be followed by SF.  He tries to get the word out, but soon enough, skyscrapers are collapsing, freeways are buckling, fires are erupting and tsunamis are pouring in on a devastated California.  Will our hero be able to rescue his wife from a roof top restaurant in LA where she is lunching with Kylie Minogue?  Will the two of them get to SF and rescue their daughter from the devastation where she has partnered up with a couple of resourceful British boys?  (Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson).  Will family traumas be revealed and patched up in two hours?  If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you must have flunked paint by numbers screenplay 101.

The screenplay by Carlton Cuse uses the rather maudlin family drama as a skeleton on which to hang multiple action sequences.  These people aren’t so much characters as cardboard cutouts so while the actors are trying to emote, we’re busy looking at our watches and waiting for the next wave of destruction.  The supporting players, in general, come off a bit better than the lantern jaw lead.  Dwayne Johnson is a good he man but has all the depth and charisma of your average GI Joe doll.  Carla Gugino, who looks terrific, runs circles around him and fortunately, they’re together for the second half of the movie.  The young people, Miss Daddario and Mr. Johnstone-Burt in particular, also do well and have a decent chemistry.  She actually makes you feel something when she becomes hopelessly trapped late in the third act.

Of course, the real stars and only reason to see the film are the special effects.  Production design, CGI and mechanical effects are all top notch and the scenes of the destruction of the great California cities are first rate.  It’s difficult to tell where reality and illusion begin and end and some of the shots of San Francisco being inundated by a tsunami are truly spectacular. It’s likely to lose something on the small screen so if it’s still at the dollar theater, by all means go.

Sinking necklace.  Impaled Korean.  Falling Kylie Minogue.  Gratuitous Colton Haynes. Flaming Coit Tower.  Interrupted job interview.  Gratuitous tandem parachute jump.  Collapsing stadium.  Impending drowning. Chinatown electronics store. 

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

photo by Danrok

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