Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario
Directed by: Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”)
Written by: Carlton Cuse (debut)
Disaster movies are so late-‘90s. When photorealistic computer-generated graphics really tightened their grip on the summer box office blockbusters, filmmakers couldn’t wait to use these pixels to destroy major cities and landmarks the world over. From “Independence Day” to “Deep Impact” to “Armageddon,” we spent our summers watching the world get destroyed over and over again. Alas, the fad died down and something else took over…historical action-adventure epics, maybe? Anyway, with “San Andreas,” we’re thrust back into the 1998 style of tent pole filmmaking: amazingly-realized destructo-porn special effects and a story with the depth of an empty swimming pool.
As an LAFD rescue helicopter pilot, Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is introduced doing what he does best: saving a young woman from a car perched perilously on a cliff face. But when a massive earthquake destroys the Hoover Dam—a phenomenon grimly predicted by Paul Giammati’s Cal Tech scientist using magnetic pulses or something—Gaines has to skip out on driving his estranged daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) to college in order to go save lives in Nevada. Blake instead hitches a ride with her mom’s (Carla Gugino) billionaire architect boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) to San Francisco, only to be abandoned by the suddenly-evil Daniel when a huge earthquake traps her in a limousine. Blake manages to make a cell phone call to Ray, who promptly whips his chopper around to pick up his ex-wife from a collapsing Los Angeles high rise and hauls ass toward San Francisco.
While the effects are well done and Johnson is as likeable as ever, “San Andreas” lacks any tension at all. The obstacles Johnson faces in an effort to save his daughter would be harrowing if it didn’t feel like he was playing in God mode in a video game—we know he isn’t going to die, but he still has to get through all of the levels in order to finish the game. Crash-land a helicopter? Yep, hold on! Disarm a man with a gun to his head? Yeah, no big deal. Parachute out of a small plane into the infield at AT&T Park? Easy. Power a small motor boat over a goddamn tsunami before it crests in San Francisco Bay? You’d better goddamn believe it! But hey, it’s summer, it’s hot outside. Might as well go watch The Rock and company narrowly dodging falling skyscrapers for a couple of hours.