San Andreas takes best PSA of 2015, hands-down. Director Brad Peyton’s efforts are potent and his direction of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson certainly propels the A-list actor to the top of the nation’s list of public service announcement actors. Even the nation’s most beloved PSA legends, like Charlie Sheen and Michelle Obama, have been usurped.
Before San Andreas, Dwayne single-handedly, and seemingly without a huff, championed the efforts of grassroots movements to promote the providences of ingesting synthetic growth hormones. He also played a major role in Furious Seven, which, as we know, is the last in a classic multi-series PSA reminding us to buckle our seatbelts. RIP Paul.
In the scenes without Dwayne, San Andreas is powerful enough. From the get-go, it rings with educational clarity. Take when Paul Giamatti so boldly shouts to Lab Assistant #1, who runs to take cover under a door frame, to “get under the desk” as the first quake hits southern California. I hadn’t heard those words spoken so clearly since adolescence, when I told my Biology teacher at my Protestant middle school that AIDS in fact was not Gay Satan waging war on good Christian men.
When Dwayne takes the stage, all else wilts and becomes forgotten. Consider the movie’s central safety tip, this one authoritatively delivered by The Rock himself after herding a dozen strangers to AT&T Stadium in San Francisco. During the aftermath one of the women asks, “How did you know to send us here?” Rock stares with an indomitable intensity: “Always find a big hard surface to push up against.” I’ll remember that one. I’d probably remember anything coming from the mouth of a talking trapezius.
Let me be clear about how much of the PSA’s success rides on Dwayne. Imagine if someone else was cast in Dwayne’s role, someone of color but less in vogue, like Chris Tucker. Sure, both have impeccable comedy careers: one became popular after taking inordinate amounts of steroids and wearing skimpy costumes; the other cashed out on the surprisingly large demographic of Americans who will find anything spoken with the voice of an angry castrato boy funny. If Chris Tucker played the role we would all find ourselves, when the Big One finally hits, wondering if what he said about pressing our bodies up against something large and hard was actual advice or a bad sex joke that implicated… Wait, is The Rock’s public safety advice actual advice or the final pleadings of a dying sex icon?
At some point director Brad Peyton must have realized that they had too much money and not enough ways to share earthquake safety tips, so he penciled in another great lesson to fill the film’s thematic palette out, and it’s my personal favorite: sign your divorce papers as soon as you can because an earthquake might hit and force you to accidentally save your failing marriage. That one really sank in for me. Thanks to San Andreas, I may one day find myself saving not only my life, but my divorce, too!