Save the dog-in-peril, there is nary a disaster movie cliché that goes unturned in San Andreas. It promises large-scale destruction, and that’s exactly what it delivers. Sandwiched among the visual effects showcases are sketchy dialogue and laughably generic character types, but director Brad Peyton and screenwriter Carlton Cuse are much more interested in packaging the film as a theme park ride. On that level, it’s quite effective.
Dwayne Johnson stars as Ray Gaines, a former military helicopter pilot who now works for the Los Angeles Fire Department. He specializes in complex rescues, as demonstrated in that ever-dependable opening sequence that has no relation to the rest of the film. After a sizable earthquake strikes Nevada, destroying the Hoover Dam, Ray is forced to cancel a trip with his daughter, Blake (Daddario), to help with the rescue effort. It turns out that’s just the beginning. The Nevada quake triggers another series of quakes along the San Andreas fault line, setting San Francisco up for a direct hit. After rescuing his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Gugino), the two head to San Francisco to rescue Blake and two of her new friends, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson).
From ignored warnings by experts (Giamatti) to the selfish, cowardly villain (Gruffudd) getting his crowd-pleasing comeuppance, San Andreas is never less than completely predictable. The movie does lack palpable cinematic tension since screenwriter Cuse never convinces us that any of the main players are ever truly in danger. What it lacks in true suspense it more than makes up with in flat-out awesome disaster-pieces. Rarely pausing for even a short breath, Peyton nicely escalates the situations as Johnson and Gugino use pretty much every mode of transportation available to get to San Francisco. The visual effects are mostly outstanding. Peyton puts us right in the center of the action from air and ground levels. A tsunami sequence is particularly impressive, leveling an already beaten-down San Francisco and providing the film’s most thrilling scene.
Johnson thrives in these hero roles, and it’s no different in San Andreas. Given ample opportunities to use his charm and knack for delivering one-liners – one after parachuting in to AT&T Park is particularly groan-inducing, yet strangely endearing – he does exactly what’s asked of him. The supporting players are fine, particularly Daddario and Giamatti, who provides the classic “God help us” line and accompanying minimalistic exposition. San Andreas is lightweight, crowd-pleasing summer entertainment that knows its place and delivers the goods.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Length: 114 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: May 29, 2015
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Carlton Cuse. Story by Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Paul Giamatti