Kevin: While many people love a fun and cheesy disaster flick, the recent devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is a grim reminder that Mother Nature’s wrath is anything but entertaining. But while the loss of life and damage to people’s homes and communities has been heartbreaking, we’ve also seen many inspiring examples of ordinary citizens rushing into danger to save their friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers. Although perhaps such everyday heroes are also taking matters into their own hands because they know they won’t be getting any help from the likes of Fire and Rescue pilot Ray Gaines in “San Andreas,” as his motto in times of crisis appears to be “You’re on your own”:
Now we know Ray is supposed to be a heroic badass because he’s played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at his most charisma-fueled and steroid-injected. He and his Los Angeles-based team are introduced being interviewed by a reporter who will show up throughout the movie any time another character needs to deliver background information or exposition. In this case we learn that Ray and his crew served two tours doing search and rescue in Afghanistan, and decided to stay together as a unit back home because – as one of them says – they didn’t want to “break up the family.” Apparently Ray didn’t get that memo, because as we will soon see he has zero problem breaking up this family as long as his real one may be in danger.
But before we get to that point, we see Ray and his men in action performing a death-defying rescue attempt of a girl who is trapped in a car that is seconds away from plunging off a cliff. Working together as a highly trained and courageous unit, Ray and his men save the girl in the nick of time, and we await what will assuredly be a movie’s worth of this brave and selfless band of brothers putting their lives at risk to rescue ordinary citizens when disaster strikes (as it turns out we are still waiting to see that particular movie). Ironically, while Ray acts like his previously alluded to (and completely off-screen) feats of heroism are no big deal to him …
… this opening rescue will turn out to be the one and only time we see him actually doing his job the entire film. Now this being a disaster movie, we can’t get to the stuff everyone came to see (CGI mass destruction) until we first sit through the stuff no one cares about (character development). In this case Ray has a daughter named Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who he apparently will be driving to college in time for her first volleyball game of the season. Actually forget about seeing Ray and his team in action, now I’d just rather watch two hours of Alexandra Daddario playing volleyball (although when one of Ray’s colleagues says he can’t believe Blake is in college, maybe it’s because Daddario was nearly 30 when she starred in this).
Now even though Ray is handsome, tough, resourceful, brave, and dedicated to his family, because he’s a hero in a disaster movie his wife wants a divorce, mainly so they can later rediscover their love and thus make the deaths of millions of people totally worth it. Ray also gets the standard scene where he comes home to find the divorce papers waiting for his signature, which he takes especially hard because he really wants to get back with his ex, unlike every divorced guy you’ve ever known in real life.
Apparently his wife Emma has never gotten over the accidental death of their other daughter, and she’s coping the best way she can, by shacking up with a billionaire (Ioan Gruffudd) who we immediately know is unworthy because, rather than doing awesome stuff like flying helicopters and lifting weights like Ray, all he does is employ tens of thousands of people and provide services consumers want. God I can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance!
I should note that it takes forever to discover what happened to the deceased daughter, but when The Rock kicks off the big reveal by solemnly intoning, “It was my idea to take Mallory rafting that day,” I knew we were in for something special. We then get a flashback that consists of a shot of Mallory going overboard in some rapids and then struggling barely under the surface, even though she has a life preserver on. Ray says he’ll never forget the look she had when she realized he couldn’t save her, but I’m not sure how he was able to see her expression since she was underwater, or why Mr. Universe here couldn’t pull his 80-pound daughter out of a few feet of water. All I’m saying is I think there is more to the story here than Ray is letting on.
(I’ll also note that this scene is only slightly less funny than Andy Samberg’s similar account of a family member’s demise in “Hot Rod”):
Anyway, eventually he and his wife finally get into some couples counseling and the movie ends. Actually no, the entire San Andreas fault starts shifting, causing massive earthquakes all over southern California (when a top seismologist played by Paul Giamatti is asked who should be called to warn about the impending disaster, he responds “Everyone,” which is really not a helpful answer). So with L.A. on fire and people in need of rescue, what does the top Fire and Rescue officer in L.A. do? Well as you’ll see below, if you are not either married to or biologically related to Ray Gaines, you are shit out of luck:
– First, while on his way to pick up the rest of his team and respond to an emergency call, Ray learns that his ex is in a restaurant on the top floor of a building in Los Angeles. He tells her to get herself and others to the roof before it collapses, and then immediately and without hesitation decides to abandon his unit and commander a vitally important rescue helicopter for his own needs (actually he and Emma make a great team, since she barely makes an effort at convincing anyone else to come with her to the roof, while later Blake shows she is a chip off the old block by stealing communications and first aid equipment from a fire truck).
– Okay, while that was maybe an understandable gut reaction, now that his wife is safe he can pick up the rest of his team and they can go out and start rescuing people, right? Nope, he quickly gets a call from Blake, who is trapped in an underground parking garage in San Francisco after Emma’s rich boyfriend ran off (actually the only thing most of us can relate to about Ray is that even he can’t avoid having his family call him while he’s at work). So once again it’s time for the faithful public servant to abdicate his sworn duties and use precious emergency resources for his own benefit.
– Although thanks to Ray that rescue helicopter won’t be of use to anyone now anyway, as damage suffered during his rescue of Emma causes it to crash into a department store that is being ransacked by looters (I feel sorry for the casting people who obviously had to spend long hours making sure every possible demographic – from an old white guy to a young Hispanic – was represented among the looters so as to avoid any accusations of racism). Ray and Emma come across a truck that appears to have been previously stolen by one of the looters, which I guess is supposed to absolve them of taking it for themselves, although I’ll note that just a few minutes earlier he appeared to be ready to drive off in the first unlocked car he found and leave its owner behind.
– Then while driving to San Francisco, Ray approaches this elderly couple stranded on the side of the road who appear to be pleading for help …
… and he just fucking drives right by without any thought to seeing if they are okay! Now the movie tries to cover for Ray a bit later by making it appear the couple was actually trying to warn them about a giant crater they were approaching, but it doesn’t exactly get him off the hook for blowing past some people who at least looked like they needed assistance, and if I was that couple I would have laughed my ass off if Ray and Emma had driven right off the edge and plunged to their death.
– Either way, while talking to the old man Ray notices a logo on his hat of a local airfield, and makes the immediate and correct assumption that he owns a plane there (apparently if Ray saw some Seth Green-looking guy wearing a Raiders cap he would assume he played QB for them). The old man lets Ray have the plane in exchange for his truck, which was a good call on his part because otherwise I’m sure Ray would have just beaten him to death and stolen the plane anyway.
– At this point I’m sure the rest of Ray’s squad is still waiting at the airfield wondering when the fuck he is gonna pick them up so they can start doing some rescuing. Too bad Ray is in a propeller plane and finally reaching San Francisco, but since the runways are destroyed he decides to bail out of the plane with Emma in a parachute. We never find out where that plane eventually goes down, but I’m going to assume it crashed right into a shelter for orphans and rescue puppies.
– Then they barely just hit the ground at AT&T Park before another aftershock hits, and after Ray tells Emma to get take cover at the stadium, he actually runs out and tells other people to do the same. I seriously couldn’t believe my eyes that Ray was actually trying to save people he wasn’t related to; I was starting to wonder if it was all a ruse and we would see him laughing maniacally as the stadium came down on those poor bastards. Either that or all these people will do a 23andMe test and discover they all somehow share DNA with Ray, and that’s why he instinctively leaped into action.
– Either way, Ray and Emma then apparently steal some person’s boat, because that’s something they haven’t stolen yet (I’d like to believe there is a deleted scene where the boat’s owner and his six kids show up on the dock only to find themselves stranded and doomed to die thanks to our “hero”). Turns out that was a good call, as it allows them to avoid a tsunami that is approaching the city and carrying along with it a cargo ship that crushes Emma’s rich boyfriend on the Golden Gate Bridge, and I find it very weird that we are obviously supposed to find this delightful when this is immediately followed by a disturbing shot of thousands of innocent people being swept away as the bridge collapses.
– Fortunately Blake and two new companions – a British love interest and his little brother – have managed to get to high ground inside a building. Ray and Emma just kind of boat around what used to be San Francisco, and at one point they pass by a couple of random people actually helping some stranded folks. Of course Ray drives right on by, but who are those selfless people in the other boat and why aren’t we doing a movie about them?
– So after somehow having a sixth sense the entire movie for knowing exactly what his daughter will be doing and where she’ll be going in a city of nearly a million people, all of a sudden it takes Ray forever to turn around and see that she is in the building 20 feet behind him:
– But before they have time to celebrate, another aftershock causes the building to collapse a few stories, putting Blake in danger of drowning and allowing director Brad Peyton to film tasteful shots like this:
– Ray of course dives in and eventually pulls Blake out, even though it appears he was too late. After getting her lifeless body onto the boat he continues performing CPR, which seems to be useless until he remembers that CPR doesn’t work in movies until you briefly give up for a second and then try one more time with a little more conviction than before. And it works! Although seriously, the fact that Blake appeared to be dead for at least five minutes before she was revived kind of puts her into “Flatliners” territory, so even if she doesn’t have severe neurological disorders she still may be terrorized by a ghostly vision from her past.
But let’s worry about that another time; the important thing is that even though millions of people died, the attractive movie stars survived. The earthquakes appear to be over, and we hear a news broadcast saying that FEMA and the National Guard have mobilized and thousands of volunteers have poured into the state. Of course if you think Ray is one of those volunteers then you seriously haven’t learned anything from “San Andreas,” because rather than putting his training and expertise to use in helping the injured around him, he just stands on a cliff with his newly reunited family and spouts platitudes about rebuilding.
He even sees a couple of rescue helicopters, possibly containing the rest of his crew he abandoned earlier, and if he has any guilt about that he sure hides it well:
So since “San Andreas” ends on a moment of hope, let’s also find a few bright spots amid the devastation: San Francisco has been destroyed enough to lower property values and make the city affordable again for anyone other than a 24-year-old app developer. After being thwarted in the original “Superman,” Lex Luthor gets to see his evil scheme from that movie finally realized. And Ray actually helped a few people at the baseball stadium, although since they were probably killed later in the tsunami his batting average for saving anyone he’s not related to is back to .ooo.
Well maybe he can redeem himself in the in-development “San Andreas 2,” although as I said in our “Tango & Cash” Round Table, my ideal version of that sequel would be just two hours of Ray being put on trial for severe dereliction of duty and waste of precious taxpayer-funded emergency equipment. I’m serious, Ray Gaines is a menace to society and should never get out of prison!
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