San Andreas faults

From the title, there’s no surprise as to what San Andreas is about. But, beyond the shaking and quaking, San Andreas isn’t really about very much. Even by tolerant disaster-movie standards, it’s a fairly dull affair.

With biceps bulging and eyebrows furrowed, Dwayne Johnson plays the heroic chopper pilot trying to save ex-wife Carla Gugino and daughter Alexandra Daddario from the ongoing catastrophe, but the biggest, deadliest fault lies in TV veteran Carlton Cuse’s simple-minded screenplay, his first for a feature film, with the story credited to Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore. Credit where discredit is due.

Director Brad Peyton relies on the spectacle and special effects to carry the film, itself a faulty decision. There’s absolutely no surprise or suspense to the proceedings. Does anyone believe that Johnson, Gugino or Daddario will be among the casualties? (Although, in a sense, they are.)

Both ladies look very dishy amid the falling debris, although it’s a little hard to buy them as mother and daughter (Gugino must have been a teenager when she gave birth). Ioan Gruffudd plays Gugino’s new beau, whose smarmy nature instantly marks him a goner, and Kylie Minogue shows up as Gruffudd’s ex-wife, who drops out of the proceedings – quite literally — mere seconds after being introduced.

Providing obligatory (if unnecessary) exposition and the requisite voice of doom is Paul Giamatti’s frantic seismologist. The actor fidgets, fiddles with his glasses, dives under desks, and tries his darnedest to add a little life. There’s only so much he can do, but he’s the best thing San Andreas has to offer.

There may be some vicarious thrill in seeing familiar West Coast landmarks laid waste, but the one-note juxtaposition of hokey melodrama and massive destruction makes San Andreas a wobbly summer diversion at best. !

Aloha: Fun in the sun

Set, not surprisingly, in beautiful Hawaii, Aloha marks Cameron Crowe’s first film since the family-friendly We Bought a Zoo four years ago.

The character-driven comedy finds Bradley Cooper in familiar territory as Brian Gilcrist, a burned-out military contractor trying to put his life in order after a series of emotional and physical setbacks, including a disastrous stint in Kabul.

In Hawaii, he’ll be working on behalf of former employer Carson Welch (Bill Murray), a brash billionaire who wants a chunk of outer space to call his own. Brian will also be reunited with former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), now married to an Air Force pilot (John Krasinski).

Finally, Brian will be united with Allison Ng (Emma Stone), his crisp and confident Air Force liaison – she’s one-quarter Hawaiian, by the way – who somehow manages to look past Brian’s surface cynicism and see the wounded soul underneath.

Oh yes, sparks will fly – in more ways than one. The film’s romantic-comedy aspects are combined, not always nimbly, with satire (cultural, military and political), and Aloha gets rather jumbled as the various elements jockey for position. For the most part, Crowe makes it work, with a huge assist from his talented, attractive cast.

Cooper and Stone (who makes an Air Force uniform look mighty fetching) have a smooth, pleasing chemistry, and Stone is even able to pull off her character’s slightly curious (and slightly formulaic) naivete.

Murray’s in prime form as the mogul who is, by turns, charming, eccentric and vaguely threatening. McAdams is warmly appealing, and Krasinski makes the most of his role – and the most of his character’s trait of communicating volumes without actually speaking. Alec Baldwin and UNCSA graduate Danny McBride don’t have much to do as Air Force brass but it’s nice having them around.

Aloha is almost an anomaly as a summer release, as it’s one of the few “grownup” movies of the season. No car chases, no shoot-outs, no martial arts, no 3-D, a little CGI, and only a couple of explosions. Whether it can withstand the barrage of big-budget blow-outs at the box-office is another matter, but the all-star cast won’t hurt. It’s a little talky at times, but mostly Aloha is a nice, comfortable breeze. Something a little different – in a good way. !

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