29 May 2015

The Road to a Blockbuster: San Andreas Shakes Things Up

It's Friday again and we have a slew of new Summer movies dropping in to assault our senses. The two wide releases this week couldn't be more different. In the first one, The Rock meets up with his estranged wife to rescue California from an Earthquake. In the second, Bradley Cooper meets up with his estranged ex-girlfriend to...pow around in Hawaii for a while. Clearly some pretty straight counter-programming here, although at this point both these films are really aimed at female audiences. My mom is way more interested in watching San Andreas (2015) for Dwayne Johnson's pecs than I am. So, what's the cultural, critical, and commercial potential for each?
Nevermind my shitty preview. This is all you need.

I was actually legitimately disappointed when I found out San Andreas wasn't actually a live action Grand Theft Auto film starring The Rock. I don't know where I got that impression from, but when I saw the first trailer I did have a solid "WTF, Earthquake?" moment. Getting beyond that, this doesn't look at all like a new movie, which is weird, because it's totally a new movie. The effects just kind of look like everything that was done in 2012 (2009), which is a terrible association. I'm not sure why Hollywood throws a big-budget disaster movie out there every couple years. 2012 did do reasonably well internationally, but it also had a lot more riding with it - that secret Mayan Apocalypse Bullshit and all - than just Lex Luthor's plot from Superman (1978).

This ought to make money and I can't imagine another Tomorrowland (2015) on our hands, which bombed completely and utterly last week. I mean, it's seriously in John Carter (2012)-land. Yet it's also the #1 original sci-fi movie of 2015. Chew on that. San Andreas has a lot more mass appeal going for it, as well as The Rock, which tends to lift a lot of movies like this with an ineffable charm and an ubiquitous presence that's genuinely not annoying at all. It's also all about saving people, which seems to be the hip thing in the wake of films like Man of Steel (2013) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), which had all this city destruction porn without any regard to the heroes actually saving anyone.

San Andreas also benefited by a pretty decent trailer and a pretty cool ethereal cover of The Mamas & the Papas classic tune. And Alexandria Daddario is on the cusp of being an It Girl as much as Rock is our boytoy of the moment. So, why do I still have the feeling that no one is going to give a shit about San Andreas? Well, like I said, even though the effects are impressive, it's all sort of been seen before. Those city destruction sequences in 2012 were actually the best parts of that movie, and if San Andreas can weave some actual human drama into that film, it's all for the better. We need to actually be able to connect to the citizens trapped in the CGI mayhem, and with that solid father/daughter/estranged wife connection going on, that's certainly possible.

You know, come to think of it, as I'm remembering that terrible 2012 movie, that was full of a dude dealing with his divorced wife and kids as well. Did the screenwriters (by the way, there were six of them), just watch 2012 and agree to focus on California falling apart? I'm also curious about how well this connects to real-world problems, namely the fact that California really is destroying itself, albeit due to water shortages, or the fact that a very real and very devastating earthquake just hit Nepal. There hasn't been a huge amount of Internet up in arms over the film's fetishization of this sort of destruction, but it's an issue worth considering as long as it puts a bad taste in my mouth the more I think about it.

The film so far has had middling reviews that seem to proudly proclaim it to be average, rather than outright shitty, and it probably has some decent sequences, but The Rock, who is trying so hard to be a solo summer action star, especially after the underrated Hercules (2014), may be better off saving overblown franchises like the Fast and Furious and G.I. Joe series. Or just make The Rundown 2: Gato in Manhattan (2025), already. I don't think anyone is going to care about San Andreas in fifteen years.
Native Hawaiians must always drink chi chi before hapanoa

On the wide other end of the spectrum is Aloha (2015), and ostensibly terrible romantic comedy/drama from Cameron Crowe, who, after I glanced at his resume, actually hasn't really made a good film in like fourteen years. I don't really know anything about this movie before reading about it fifteen minutes ago, but despite a knockout cast that includes Brad Cooper, Rachel McAdams (obviously a future what-if scenario from Wedding Crashers [2005], Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, Danny McBride, and John Krasinski, it apparently sucks ass.

Its counter-programming to all the stupid shit in Summer, along with its relatively smaller budget makes it nearly a surefire thing to make some coin, especially from uninformed old people who really liked Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Brad Cooper is also pretty hot right now, having just improbably wrapped up his most successful movie, American Sniper (2014) and his third straight Oscar nomination. This all seems to be a bait and switch, though, because Aloha is terrible. It's like a rom dram version of The Descendants (2011) with less goofy Clooney and people getting punched in the face.

As you can tell, I have a fairly low opinion of both flicks dropping today, but that's only because they are by all accounts uninteresting and terrible. What do you think? Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong.

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