You’d think they would’ve retired the disaster movie after “2012.” After all, where do you go after you’ve filmed the end of the world?
But it seems you can’t keep a good — or at least popular — film genre down, so here we are with Dwayne Johnson trying to save California — or at least his family — from earthquake disaster in “San Andreas.”
Hard to believe it’s taken this long for someone to make a disaster movie about the San Andreas fault. We’ve been warned it’s going to go off now for decades. Oh wait, wasn’t “Earthquake” (1974) about an earthquake in Los Angeles ? And it probably wasn’t the only one. Nevermind.
If you’ve watched a lot of disaster movies you know that they have a pretty rigid structure: Line up a bunch of people, focus on the dramas in their lives, interrupt with DISASTER, regroup, more drama, DISASTER, repeat until the special effects budget runs out.
Most disaster movies feature a large ensemble cast and we’re constantly buffeted from one soap opera to another in between scenes of towering infernos or exploding volcanoes or overturned ocean liners. “San Andreas” is a bit different in that pretty much all the action is focused on two men.
One is Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), the scientist whose job it is to warn everyone of impending doom. In a refreshing chance of pace, people actually listen to him. There’s no bureaucrat above him telling him to go away and recheck his figures. On the other hand, since Lawrence doesn’t have anyone opposing him, he doesn’t have much to do but look worried and occasionally hide under a table.
The real story, of course, involves rescue-helicopter pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson). Ray’s wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has left him for drama that I’ll leave you to discover in the theater. Their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is on her way from Los Angeles to college in San Franscisco. When earthquake duty calls Ray away, Blake has to hitch a ride with Emma’s new beau, the wealthy Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), in his private jet.
The fault first begins shaking at Hoover Dam, then moves on to Los Angeles. Ray manages to rescue Emma from a high-rise in L.A. Then the couple fly off to San Francisco to find Blake. As the quake makes its way to San Fran, Blake manages to survive with help from a couple of brothers — Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson).
Director Brad Peyton doesn’t veer very far from the disaster movie blueprint. If you love disaster movies, you’ll love “San Andreas.” The special effects are impressive, the soap opera has plenty of suds, the rescues are insane, the near-misses are over-the-top, the acting won’t win any Academy Awards.
Still, ” San Andreas” is everything it’s aiming to be. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a great piece of cinema, but a solid thrill ride for summer audiences.