The problem with large-scale disaster movies is that we’re always given a few people to care about, out of presumably millions of lives. If buildings and bridges are collapsing in Los Angeles and a massive wave is turning San Francisco into an aquarium, who cares whether some random guy will heroically rescue his estranged wife and daughter?
In “San Andreas” Dwayne Johnson is the random guy. His character Ray is a doting father and a search and rescue helicopter pilot on the verge of a divorce. He rescues a girl stuck in her car wedged between two mountains and saves his chopper unit in the first couple of scenes. When an earthquake slams Los Angeles, he’s back in heroic mode as soon as he discovers his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) is stuck on the rooftop of a swanky L.A. eatery. Once reunited, they set off to find their only daughter, Blake, played by Alexandra Daddario, in the aftermath of a second quake 400 miles away in San Francisco after she’s ditched by her mother’s boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).
We follow their treacherous journey, through the avalanche of debris as the film tries to imagine the largest magnitude earthquake in recorded history (a 9.6). It’s a quake Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) predicted, but of course, no one listened (they never do). He believes that there is worse to come and manages to warn everyone when he hacks into a media network but the warning comes much too late as sheer chaos overcomes the west coast.
Director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) follows a similar recipe that paid off lucratively in disaster movies “Independence Day,” “2012” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” There’s a large dose of destruction, a sprinkling of character development and ounces of scenes involving our heroes narrowly avoiding death – numerous times.
With a staggering series of visual effects pieces “San Andreas” has great visuals. Roads buckle, bridges snap, fires erupt across multiple cityscapes and buildings fall, smashing into other buildings on their way down like goliath dominoes. The most impressive being a 15-story tsunami – a virtual wall of water which comes crashing into San Francisco. As the events unfold and one extreme moment after another careens off the screen, you feel like you are living through these events with the characters. Speed, drama, humor is all inclusive but a weak dialogue and scenarios weigh it down. Still, it’s good popcorn cinema and is a decent summer fare that will earn a profit. Will it make the top 10 list of best disaster movies? No. Does it entertain? Yes.
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