When a film’s selling point is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fighting to survive against major earthquakes, you go in with a set of realistic expectations. This is more or less the plot of the latest big-budget disaster porn feature San Andreas, directed by Brad Peyton, whose previous works include Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. He teamed up with Lost writer Carlton Cuse for to bring this epic vision of destruction to the entertain on the big screen in the biggest way possible.
In that retrospect, San Andreas delivers. But it’s severely limited by the “spot the cliché” aspect of previous disaster movies and action blockbusters alike. You’ve seen it all before, you know every beat before it occurs, and you know that the main characters are more than likely going to come out unscathed, if not a little bit bruised up.
We see the disaster unfold through the eyes of Ray Gaines (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a Aghanistan veteran who now spends his days saving lives as a helicopter resue-pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department. It’s his duty as a family man to save his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) when the destruction starts running amok. We get a separate storyline involving an ahead of the game seismologist named Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) who had an idea that this natural disaster was coming someday, but naturally, no one listened to him.
These character introductions are breezy enough in the beginning just to give us our required feel for them and their dynamics, so that we have some humans to care about by the time that director Brad Peyton decides to destroy everything, and everyone, around them. For the most part, the major CGI made destruction looks huge and is devastating as all hell. It’s this films bread and butter, and it provides all the thrills in that department. It does go a bit overboard towards the end, but it’s all a part of the territory.
The franchise viagra himself, Dwayne Johnson, does a fine job in this role, perfect for the action scenes, but also willing to try show some emotion when needed. Paul Giamatti does all that he can with his role, but he’s too good of an actor to be underused as he is here. Mr. Fantastic himself, Ioan Gruffudd, has a fun time taking a heel turn here, as Emma’s less than pleasant new boyfriend Daniel Riddick. Then there’s the lighthearted duo of Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson, who play a pair of British brothers who befriend Blake and try to make it out through their untimely visit to San Francisco. They end up being the heart and soul of a picture mostly void of one.
Sure Cuse’s script is plagued with all the expected cliches and cringe-worthy moments that movies of this sort usually bring out. But he also works in a few great one-liners for Johnson to run rampant with, including one pretty great line while parachuting with Gugino at AT&T Park. These lighthearted moments are few and far between, but they help soften the blow of the CGI disaster overload.
San Andreas isn’t going to change the game or be remembered much past this month, but you really could do much worse when it comes to the summer popcorn genre. You’re expecting the sort of film that you’ll have no problem turning on for groggy-eyed future viewings 3 a.m. when you just want some fine harmless fun (for the viewers anyway). And it delivers just that.