Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson stars in San Andreas (12A), playing LAFD chopper rescue pilot Ray, whose considerable skills are tested to their limits when California experiences a massive earthquake.
The tone is set early on, when seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) watches in horror as the Hoover Dam is swept away, a thrillingly spectacular sequence that confirms both the awesome power of nature and the superbly deployed CGI that makes San Andreas a visceral rollercoaster.
Directed by Brad Peyton, the movie follows the almost impossibly resourceful Ray as he rattles around a crumbling California in a bewildering number of vehicles — a succession of helicopters, planes, cars and speedboats — rescuing more damsels in distress than might be found in half-a-dozen German fairy-tales.
The two most important damsels are Ray’s ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), and the fact that Emma and Blake find themselves at opposite ends of California only enhances Ray’s heroics — indeed, this is a resolutely old-fashioned tale of derring-do with white steeds replaced by motorised transport, as man-mountain Ray rides into hopeless battle against a foe that has pretty much made a nonsense of the Richter Scale.
It’s all cheesier than last year’s brie, of course, but that’s half the fun in a disaster movie, while the other half is watching all those famous landmarks succumb to quake, collapse and a very impressive tsunami. Nuanced performances are at a premium in a visual extravaganza such as this, but Johnson is nevertheless hugely likeable as the epitome in self-deprecating alpha male hero.
Al Pacino stars as the eponymous hero of Danny Collins (15A), a promising but painfully shy singer-songwriter who was compared to John Lennon when he released his debut album in 1971. Four decades on, with Danny a bling-draped, bloated caricature of Vegas-style rock ’n’ roll excess, he discovers that John Lennon sent him a letter of praise during those early days, offering to guide him through the perilous temptations of fame and fortune.
The shock has a seismic effect on Danny’s life, and soon he is cancelling concerts, getting back to his musical roots, and attempting to establish a relationship with his estranged son, Tom (Bobby Cannavale).
Written and directed by Dan Fogelman, Danny Collins might well prove a tad predictable and sentimental for some as Danny pursues his dream of going back to basics (Lennon’s plaintive ‘Working Class Hero’ is a recurring musical motif), but it’s a feel-good tale that more or less earns its occasional digression into mawkishness.
It helps that Pacino is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast, including Jennifer Garner playing Tom’s wife Samantha, Annette Bening as the manager of the hotel where Danny holes up to escape from the world, and Christopher Plummer in deliciously cynical form as Danny’s long-suffering agent.
Pacino is less than convincing when playing the crowd-pleasing lounge lizard on stage, but he brings a powerful emotional intensity to his unusually understated role as a neglectful father trying to made good on a lifetime’s failings.
Man Up (15A) opens with Jack (Simon Pegg) waiting for his blind date at London’s Waterloo Station, only to mistake Nancy (Lake Bell) for the woman — Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) — he is supposed to meet.
By instinct cautious when it comes to affairs of the heart, Nancy — inspired, ironically, by Jessica, whom she met on the train — for once decides to take a gamble on life, and plays along with Jack’s blunder.
Ben Palmer’s romantic comedy (written by Tess Morris) has an intriguing premise, given that Nancy is by nature an offbeat, idiosyncratic character who finds herself lying her way into a conservative strait-jacket in order to keep the date alive.
Matters are further complicated by the fact that Nancy bumps into people who know who she really is, and that Jack — a brash, self-confident man when we first meet him — is in reality still badly wounded by the failure of his marriage and impending divorce.
The transition from upbeat and breezy to miserably dependent somehow renders Simon Pegg’s character smug, slimy and a little bit creepy, a sharp contrast to Lake Bell’s powerhouse turn as a disarmingly forthright, quirky and believable singleton who has found herself at the end of her emotional tether.
The script and Palmer’s direction are nowhere as taut as a good rom-com needs to be, with the middle third meandering all over the map as Nancy and Jack bar-hop around London to no good narrative purpose, but overall it’s a solid comedy rescued from mediocrity by Lake Bell’s vitality.
San Andreas ****
Danny Collins ****
Man Up ***
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