Wednesday, June 3, 2015

San Andreas

"San Andreas" illustrates the difference between camp (yucky) and cheese (yummy).

You'd be amazed how many movies aspire to be "so bad they're good," and the vast majority are just so bad they're bad. "San Andreas" straddles the line brilliantly, offering a scenario and production values just creditable enough for its intentional but not in-your-face laughs to strike gold. Director Brad Peyton didn't go the route of deliberate continuity errors or falling-apart sets; there's a respectable disaster movie here for anyone who wants that. But neither did he make a serious movie that's only unwittingly funny, a serviceable definition of camp. (The Kristin Scott Thomas-Ludivine Sagnier corporate drama "Love Crime" has become my go-to example.) The result is two hours of hilarity for the audience, the kind of movie to see with friends so you can trade barbs (don't worry; everyone else will be talking too). 

Dwayne Johnson plays L.A. fire and rescue chief Ray Gaines, who extracts a young driver from her car halfway between Mulholland Drive and the abyss in the movie's opening and most exciting set piece. Carla Gugino is his ex-wife, Emma, now engaged to black-hat skyscraper developer Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). Daniel flies Blake (Alexandra Daddario), Ray and Emma's daughter, back to school in the Bay Area, stopping for a meeting at his headquarters. Ben, a sweet and shy Brit (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), has come there for a job interview with precocious kid brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) in tow. (Ollie immediately sets about matching them up.) Meanwhile, Emma has a lunch meeting in L.A. with Daniel's ex, Susan (Kylie Minogue!). Then the first of several 9+-magnitude quakes hits, and it's up to Ray to save Emma and up to both to bring back their daughter (without a scratch on any of them). Daniel abandons Blake to fend for himself, prompting Emma to remark, "He left my daughter? I'll fucking kill him myself!"

Paul Giamatti plays Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes, whose predictive model is proven out by a calamitous foreshock at the Hoover Dam. He's being interviewed by a newswoman (played by Archie Panjabi) when the first Big One hits. This being Caltech, he enlists some student hackers to get his signal on the air so he can deliver a hilariously solemn warning to Californians, complete with a quivering lip and flared nostrils that mark it as the obvious Oscar clip. ("Pray for the people of San Francisco.") The laughs are just getting started and - here's the hard part - they keep coming pretty regularly for the next two hours. A friend asked whether she should see "Mad Max" or "San Andreas," and the choice puts the contrast in stark relief: "Mad Max" is boring and repetitive and totally humorless, whereas I defy you not to have a blast watching "San Andreas."

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