At one moment during San Andreas, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson dives out of a Cessna clutching his soon-to-be-ex wife. Below, the world has gone to hell: residential skyscrapers crumbled, human debris littering Chinatown like discarded Dim Sum coupons, remnants of a nation far too shocked to mourn. 95% of San Franciscans have been annihilated, and TED-talk-auditioning scientists promise that the worst is still to come. “I haven’t gotten to second base with you in a while,” he quips.
The Disaster Movie formula is inherently ridiculous, and any attempt I make to criticize this one is going to feel profoundly tone deaf. You already know why it’s stupid. Co-opting the visuals of real-life tragedies for popcorn-flick amusement isn’t exactly ethically sound. Nor are the priorities it begs of us: precisely five lives are sacred in this film, five million more are utterly expendable, and at least one is disposed of with jeers and whistles. Value of life is inversely proportional to wealth and directly proportional to upper body strength. Melodrama is shoehorned in the least opportune places. “You had another kid, but she drowned, right?” is seen as valid exposition. Plot, when feebly attempted, is absurd.
But there’s a reason we’re drawn to this stupid genre: utter powerlessness is exhilarating. It may be the only truly universal human experience, and the more realistic the setting, the greater the thrill. With its clear geography and detailed set design, San Andreas is more than adequate at communicating that thrill — even as it’s cartoony enough to sidestep most ethical concerns. It’s a total What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get flick, and from my vantage point in Ground Zero, I had an embarrassingly fun time watching my city get destroyed. A forgettable, inexcusably dumb time, to be sure. But if you saw the trailer and expected anything better, it’s your own damn fault.
Armed with an hour of disastrous puns and worse Paul Giamatti impressions, Chris and I review it on this week’s Spoiler Warning.