A crack­ing adventure

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

San An­dreas (M) Na­tional re­lease Aloha (PG) Na­tional re­lease from June 4

David Strat­ton re­minds me that the 1974 dis­as­ter film Earth­quake was no­table for the first use of Sen­sur­round, a rum­bling, low-fre­quency sound ef­fect de­signed to make au­di­ences feel like the earth was mov­ing. And now he men­tions it I can re­call go­ing to the cinema with my fa­ther and younger brother — was it the old Fo­rum on Syd­ney’s Ge­orge Street? — to ex­pe­ri­ence that seat-shak­ing sen­sa­tion.

Sen­sur­round was a flash in the pan, but to­day’s film tech­nolo­gies — com­puter graph­ics, 3-D and IMAX screens — com­bine to make you feel ter­ri­fy­ingly in the mid­dle of an epic earth­quake in one of the most spec­tac­u­lar ac­tion films I’ve seen in re­cent times. I rec­om­mend not fill­ing your pop­corn con­tainer to the brim, as you’ll only make a mess.

The ac­tion opens with a warn­ing about tex­ting while driv­ing: a young women in a sports car, eyes on her phone, ends up half way down a ravine, trapped in her ver­ti­cal ve­hi­cle. Cue Los An­ge­les Fire Depart­ment res­cue pi­lot Ray Gaines (Dwayne John­son), who takes his he­li­copter where no he­li­copter has a right to go.

This thrilling scene, in which we see the peril from the pi­lot’s point of view, is typ­i­cal of what is to come. When it comes to the mil­lion-dollar set pieces in this $US100 mil­lion film, Canadian direc­tor Brad Pey­ton (who worked with John­son on Jour­ney 2: The Mys­te­ri­ous Is­land) de­liv­ers ev­ery time.

We quickly learn Gaines’s back­story. He’s re­luc­tantly di­vorc­ing his wife Emma (Carla Gug­ino), who has hooked up with mega-rich ar­chi­tect Daniel Rid­dick (Welsh ac­tor Ioan Gruf­fudd). He is close to his beau­ti­ful daugh­ter Blake (an im­pres­sive Alexan­dra Dad­dario), who is head­ing to San Fran­cisco and col­lege. There was an­other daugh­ter, but she drowned on a raft­ing trip: not even Ray could save her.

In a sec­ond sto­ry­line we meet Lawrence Hayes (Paul Gia­matti), a seis­mol­o­gist work­ing on an earth­quake early warn­ing sys­tem. When his stu­dents ask the chances of an­other cat­a­clysmic rup­ture in the San An­dreas Fault, such as the one that wiped out San Fran­cisco in 1906, he says: “It’s not a mat­ter of if, but when.”

He’s so right. No sooner has he cracked his earth­quake code than, in an­other gob­s­mack­ing scene, the ground opens up in Ne­vada, burst­ing the Hoover Dam.

But this is a tid­dler com­pared with what is to come: the whole 1300km fault line is shift­ing, which means the west coast is one huge earth­quake zone.

Gaines’s wife is in Los An­ge­les, his daugh­ter is in San Fran — and this time he’s determined to res­cue them, and ev­ery­one else for that mat­ter. It’s heart-rac­ing stuff. Scenes such as a tsu- nami pow­er­ing over the Golden Gate Bridge, toss­ing ocean lin­ers like bath toys, and Gaines fly­ing his chop­per through a col­laps­ing LA sky­line are awe-inspiring. This is a hor­ror film in which there are no mon­sters, where death and de­struc­tion are caused by an in­dif­fer­ent nat­u­ral force con­fronting hu­man con­structs of steel, con­crete and glass.

John­son is a re­li­able ac­tion hero, all mus­cle but ca­pa­ble of do­ing the qui­eter emo­tional scenes. He also has a comic side, not that there’s much chance to show it here, aside from one good joke in­volv­ing a base­ball field. In­deed, he is let down by a rather leaden script that mainly has him ut­ter­ing vari­a­tions on the line “Let’s go get our daugh­ter”.

This is re­deemed by the sparkling con­nec­tion be­tween Blake and two ac­ci­den­tal English­men who come to her res­cue, Ben (Aus­tralian ac­tor Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Fish Lamb in Cloud­street, who is ex­cel­lent) and his lit­tle brother Ollie (Art Parkin­son). An­other Aussie, Kylie Minogue, pops up briefly.

San An­dreas, filmed mainly on the Gold Coast, is a ter­rific film and I rec­om­mend it to one and all, but at the same time it’s worth paus­ing to note it is be­ing re­leased a month af­ter the earth­quake in Nepal that killed more than 8600 peo­ple. I sus­pect had a tragedy of one-tenth that pro­por­tion hap­pened on Amer­i­can soil, the film would have been de­layed. The stu­dio has said the mar­ket­ing cam­paign will in­clude in­for­ma­tion about how to as­sist the ur­gent on­go­ing re­lief ef­fort in Nepal. That is to be ap­plauded. Cameron Crowe’s Hawaii-set com­edy-drama

is an awk­ward film to re­view. Good direc­tor, at­trac­tive cast, in­ter­est­ing enough story, scenic lo­ca­tions — but the bot­tom line is I didn’t like it.

Yet it’s one of those cases where I’m es­pe­cially con­scious that some­thing which doesn’t work for me may well ap­peal to oth­ers. My col­league Graeme Blun­dell, sit­ting in the same pre­view screen­ing, liked it a lot.

He en­joyed the snappy, never-miss-a-beat dia­logue be­tween the cen­tral char­ac­ters, say­ing it re­minded him of Aaron Sorkin TV shows such as The West Wing and The News­room.

I like that sort of dia­logue too, but not in this case as I just didn’t be­lieve the char­ac­ters would speak that way. In­deed, I didn’t be­lieve in any of the char­ac­ters, in their mo­ti­va­tions, emo­tions and be­hav­iour, and that was my main prob­lem with the film. Oh, I also think it’s silly.

Here’s the setup: Brian Gil­crest (Bradley Cooper) is a mil­i­tary con­trac­tor with a black mark to his name. Some­thing went wrong in Afghanistan that left his body and rep­u­ta­tion dam­aged. He has re­turned to his old stamp­ing ground, Hawaii, af­ter a 13-year ab­sence, os­ten­si­bly to help ne­go­ti­ate with the lo­cals about putting a satel­lite in their sa­cred sky. The ex­act na­ture of that satel­lite, what it will be used for, is a piv­otal ques­tion.

Brian has two po­ten­tial love in­ter­ests, his old flame Tracey Wood­side (Rachel McA­dams), now mar­ried with two kids, and the gung-ho air force of­fi­cer as­signed to mind him, Al­li­son Ng (Emma Stone). In a note typ­i­cal of the laboured hu­mour, Tracey’s hand­some, tac­i­turn hus­band is Woody Wood­side (John Krasin­ski).

Bill Mur­ray, cast to re­cent type, is Brian’s boss, crazy mu­ni­tions mogul Car­son Welch, and Alec Baldwin, ditto, storms around as a ra­bid gen­eral.

Th­ese awk­ward, of­ten an­gry, strangely un­ap­peal­ing char­ac­ters in­ter­sect in two main sto­ry­lines that cen­tre on Brian’s chance for re­demp­tion: by mak­ing a fu­ture with Tracy (or per­haps with Of­fi­cer Ng) and by mak­ing up for his murky past by do­ing right this time (or per­haps not).

The over­all plot is baggy and the high­lights

San An­dreas, reel mo­ments are, to my eye, con­trived. For ex­am­ple, there’s a dance scene be­tween Car­son and Of­fi­cer Ng that seems to take place solely be­cause they had Mur­ray and Stone in the same room, so why not?

Crowe has made some well-liked films, in­clud­ing the rock jour­nal­ism com­edy Al­most Fa­mous and the sports man­age­ment com­edy Jerry Maguire. If you en­joyed those I wouldn’t want to put you off see­ing this new one. But per­haps the best way to end this re­view is to say my favourite of his is the Tom Cruise-Pene­lope CruzCameron Diaz psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller Vanilla Sky, a re­make of Ale­jan­dro Amenabar’s Abre los Ojos ( Open Your Eyes).

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