What It’s About
Far-fetched but fun for those in an escapist action mood, “San Andreas” presents massive earthquake mayhem in a formula disaster movie.
The movie hinges on the widespread appeal of the mighty Dwayne Johnson (“Furious Seven”), aka former professional wrestler The Rock, who displays brute force and emotional range as our hero Ray, a rescue chopper-pilot in L.A.
The preposterous screenplay by Carlton Cuse (“Bates Motel”) quickly establishes Ray’s resourcefulness in an opening scene reminiscent of “Cliffhanger.” He is also a loving father who is trying to cope with his estranged wife’s new life. Emma (Carla Gugino) is moving in with a suave rich architect Daniel Riddick (Iaon Gruffudd), who is overseeing construction of the tallest building in San Francisco. Of course.
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When a 9.6 earthquake strikes California along the San Andreas Fault, Ray and Emma’s daughter Blake is stranded with her future stepfather in San Fran. Chaos reigns as buildings topple, a tsunami erupts in the bay, and aftershocks bring on even more peril. Flooding, fires, chunks of concrete and shards of glass escalate widespread panic. Like the recent reboot of “Godzilla,” the terror produced in the streets is shown with realistic effects but there is not much connection to the human casualties — except for Ray’s family.
Unlike the cheesy but hugely popular disaster epics of the 1970s — “Earthquake,” “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” — we’re not focused on multiple characters and their personal plights, but a small core of people — Ray, Emma, Daniel, Blake and her two Australian friends Ben and Ollie. Yet we do have time for a little romance.
Is there any doubt Ray will save the day? After all, this is The Rock’s wheelhouse. We enjoy seeing him triumph over hellfire and high water.
Johnson is steady, as always, and the family core is believable. The youth — Alexandra Daddario (“Parenthood”), Hugo Johnstone-Burt (“Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”) and Art Parkinson (“Dracula Untold”) — are not only fetching but also enterprising.
Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”) is properly professorial and authoritative as a seismologist at California Institute of Technology who alerts the media to the impending quakes.
Watching Hoover Dam crumble and the Golden Gate Bridge break apart are eye-popping visuals, and there are fabulous derring-do stunts — such as parachuting into AT&T Park.
Director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) knows what is expected, and moves the turmoil along.
What Doesn’t Work
The melodramatic elements are eye-rollers. In order for this plot to work, many coincidences must occur, and the contrivances are obvious. Finding their daughter in the rubble of Frisco would realistically be like searching for a needle in a haystack, but He-Man Ray will prevail rescuing his women. He is not leaving his heart in San Fran.
The script is weak, but the action is strong. People will come to hear the ear-splitting crunch of metal and watch steel and concrete disintegrate as California’s signature landmarks are destroyed “Independence Day”-style, and hope the Rock avoids lethal glass missiles and multiple hazards. It is what it is.
2 stars out of 4
Director: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson
Rated: PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language