San Andreas (2015)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt
2015’s blockbuster earthquake movie San Andreas delivers non-stop action and large-scale mayhem in spades, while simultaneously sticking just a little too close to every genre cliché you can think of.
Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is a fearless rescue-chopper pilot, introduced to us in the process of saving a girl trapped in a car stuck on a vertical cliff face by roping down from a helicopter on the verge of engine failure inside a narrow ravine. All in a day’s work for The Rock.
Ray is set to pick up his daughter Blake (the impossibly beautiful Alexandra Daddario) from ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) when a massive earthquake destroys the Hoover Dam, forcing Ray to cancel the father-daughter trip to San Francisco. Learning that Emma is about to move in with her new boyfriend, building tycoon Daniel (Ioan Gruffud), does nothing to brighten Ray’s mood.
The Hoover Dam collapse serves as proof that an earthquake prediction model developed by Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) at Cal-Tech works. And it is being put to the test immediately, as readings indicate that the entire San Andreas fault is about to let the big one rip.
Emma is having lunch at a roof-top restaurant as Los Angeles is hit by a 9.1 quake. Ray, about to check in for duty, instead steers his helicopter towards downtown L.A. to rescue her from the top of the crumbling building.
Meanwhile, Ray’s daughter Blake has traveled to San Francisco with Daniel in his private jet. Waiting at Daniel’s office, she befriends British engineering student Ben and his kid brother Ollie. Suddenly, a new earthquake hits, and Emma is trapped beneath concrete rubble in Daniel’s limo. Daniel turns out to be a coward, but Ben and Ollie learn of her whereabouts and come to the rescue.
The resourceful Blake finds a way to get in touch with Ray and Emma, who immediately head for San Francisco – but just as they arrive, the city is shaken by what turns out to be the biggest recorded quake in history, a 9.6 humdinger. That in turn triggers a tsunami that drowns the stricken city. Ray and Emma miraculously manage to survive. Now they just have to try and find Blake somewhere in the chaos – if she even is alive…
I enjoyed San Andreas for it’s more or less incessant action and lovingly crafted scenes of collapsing infrastructure. The special effects overall are very good, though the visuals frequently made me think of Roland Emmerich’s 2012. Which is perhaps inevitable given the theme and location.
The cast is another plus. I like Dwayne Johnson better than most modern action heroes, and while he might not be an Oscar contender he does turn in an earnest performance. Paul Giamatti is always a nice presence, even though his role here is very limited, and Carla Gugino gives a good effort.
As pure disaster porn, San Andreas works well enough, but as a whole, it is undermined by a crucial weakness: It comes across as generic in more or less every respect. I referenced 2012 above in terms of the look, and one prominent set-piece seems to be more or less ripped wholesale from Tidal Wave. The plot is by-the-numbers, the characters are bland and the dialogue is so lazily written you can frequently predict the exact line a character is about to say. Screenwriter Carlton Cuse (yes, the Lost guy) can’t have put too much effort into this.
So yeah, I’ll recommend this one if you enjoy some picturesque mayhem with your popcorn, it’s got enough action and spectacle to be worth spending a couple of hours on, but it doesn’t quite measure up to some other recent big-screen disaster movies.