At least when an earthquake really hits Hollywood hard, they may think twice about making movies like San Andreas for a while. Even before the ground starts to shake, and long before a tsunami hits towards the end of the film, Dwayne Johnson and all involved have sunk deep into an ocean of clichés, scattered through every scene like floating debris.
San Andreas is a disaster movie with a capital D. The actor formerly known as The Rock plays Ray, a helicopter rescue pilot who basically decides to take a day off and have some family time on what should be the busiest day of his life. After saving a young girl hanging off a cliff in the opening scene, Ray commandeers a helicopter as a so-called swarm of seismic activity hits the San Andreas Fault. We're all kept up to date on exactly what is happening by Paul Giamatti's Caltech earthquake prediction (and exposition) expert, while Ray uses the resources of the LA fire and rescue department to singlehandedly save only his family. While San Francisco is devastated by quakes and thousands need his help, Ray makes it his personal mission to ignore his duties and rescue the wife who is on the brink of divorcing him and the daughter who dared to catch a ride to college with her new step-father.
San Andreas is so riddled with cracks, the clichés literally pour off the screen. Its seen-it-all-before story with the divorced husband/dad winning his family back from a wealthy usurping step-dad figure is straight out of a hundred other films from Taken to Die Hard. San Andreas barely bothers to even set them up as characters, assuming you've seen the likes of The Day After Tomorrow and simply trying to ramp up the destruction. Every time that Carla Gugino as Ray's wife tries to inject a bit of human drama by dredging up the family's tragic backstory, you may just find yourself quaking with tremors of giggles.
But you're probably not particularly after a great deal of depth with a film like San Andreas, so instead just buckle up and enjoy the ride as buildings tumble, tsunamis smash, and the earth is literally torn to pieces. If it's spectacle you're after, San Andreas unsurprisingly has plenty. The Rock may not get to show off his biceps by lifting buildings off babies but he does get to fly helicopters, a plane and then ride a boat straight into an approaching tsunami. It's epic levels of silliness but quite immersive on the odd occasion it really gets inside the carnage with the characters. The shots of the earth rippling under cities are fairly stunning but there isn't nearly enough time spent on the effects of all this on the general population. Well, when The Rock has his precious family to save, who cares about anyone else?
If only the characters were worth spending some empathetic energy on. Continuing his run of aggravatingly sexist characters, Dwayne Johnson doesn't get to shout anything quite as depressing as “woman, I am the cavalry” in San Andreas, but he is still surrounded by weak women in San Andreas. His daughter Blake gets a little to do, thanks to the fact she listened and learned a lot from her dear old heroic dad, but she still needs rescuing far too frequently. And as for Ray's soon-to-be-ex-wife, don't even think about looking for anything even remotely interesting. She is a doe-eyed and useless non-entity, only there to try and drag some emotion from the muscled lead and look up to him in awe.
In terms of Hollywood blockbuster disaster porn, San Andreas sits somewhere comfortably above the mind-numbing 2012, but at the same time manages to make The Day After Tomorrow look like a masterpiece. It’s turn-your-brain-off-at-the-door fun in places, but unintentionally hilarious in many of its best/worst moments. While Brad Peyton does a good job of directing most of the plentiful set pieces, he is hampered by a screenplay that even manages to make Paul Giamatti look like an amateur.
If you really want to have a good time, give San Andreas a miss and dig out a copy of the Grand Theft Auto game that shares its name instead.
SAN ANDREAS / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: BRAD PEYTON / SCREENPLAY: CARLTON CUSE / STARRING: DWAYNE JOHNSON, CARLA GUGINO, ALEXANDRA DADDARIO, PAUL GIAMATTI, IOAN GRUFFUDD / RELEASE DATE: MAY 29TH
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10