Earth trembles, cities are destroyed, and various characters struggle to survive in front of a catastrophe about to swallow them all – and I have seen such sights like them many times before. This does not always mean a bad thing, but “San Andreas” is not entertaining enough for me to fully enjoy its many corny and preposterous moments. This is a well-made disaster film, but nothing particularly stuck to my mind after the screening, and I only observed from the distance how it earnestly sticks to many of its genre clichés and conventions from the beginning to the end.
Like many other disaster flicks, the movie has an obligatory character whose main function is warning others of a very bad thing which does happen later. Dr. Lawence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) has made a breakthrough in his research project on the development of an advanced earthquake prediction technique, but then there comes a situation which will demand a lot of his expertise. A sudden big earthquake happens during his field research at the Hoover Dam in Nevada, and it turns out that this is just the prelude for a far bigger disaster. Not long after Dr. Hayes returns to his seismology laboratory in Caltech while still shocked by what happened at the Hoover Dam, the San Andreas Fault, which has been the main factor behind all the major earthquake incidents in California as told during his lecture scene, begins to relish its massive amount of shock and awe as he and other scientists have feared.
Fortunately, Dr. Hayes and other people including the visiting TV reporter Serena Johnson (Archie Panjabi) are in a relatively safe area, and they try as much as they can for notifying people of this worsening situation before it is too late. Although his role is basically a storytelling device, Giamatti puts the convincing air of urgency and seriousness into his mandatory scenes, and we do not have any doubt about his character’s fear and concern on what is going to happen (“It’ll be soon over here, but pray for the people of San Francisco.”)
Anyway, the hero of the movie is Raymond ‘Ray’ Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), a brave, resourceful rescue-chopper pilot working at the LA Fire Department. As you will see from the opening scene involved with a very risky rescue operation in the San Fernando Valley, Ray is a man dedicated to his profession. He is also a good dad to his young daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), but he has been estranged from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino), who decided to leave him after their relationship was deteriorated by a family tragedy they have not quite recovered from yet. Their divorce is about to be finalized, and now she is planning to marry her rich boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffud), who surely does not look like a dependable guy compared to Ray right from his first appearance.
Ray is supposed to go to San Francisco with daughter, but he has to break his promise because the LA Fire Department goes into alert mode after the earthquake in Nevada, so Blake goes with Daniel instead. Daniel’s company is building a big skyscraper in the downtown area of San Francisco, and it will not take even 10 seconds for you to see that his ambitious pet project is going to meet a fate a lot worse than that ill-fated building in “The Towering Inferno” (1974).
It will be not much of a spoiler to tell you that Daniel eventually shows how lousy he is as Emma’s future husband when San Francisco gets the next blow after LA is nearly demolished. Blake finds herself abandoned by Daniel under a perilous situation, but she is fortunately rescued in time by two British brothers Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Brut) and Ollie (Art Parkinson), with whom she had a chance encounter before the earthquake happened. As Ray and Emma try to go to San Francisco for finding their daughter by any means necessary, Blake and her new friends stick together for survival in the middle of chaos and panic around the city, and it goes without saying that Ben and Blake become closer to each other while Ben’s little plucky brother cannot possibly more pleased about that.
The movie keeps serving us with more disaster scenes. Buildings and bridges are shaken or collapsed by the continuing series of seismic shockwave generated along the Sand Andreas Fault, and there is also another big moment around the climax when Ray makes a daring attempt in front of a virtually unstoppable force of nature ready to strike San Francisco very hard. Dwayne Johnson carries the film well with his formidable presence, and this likable action movie actor abides as the solid rock base for this shaky film while the other actors do as much as they can do with their mostly thankless roles. The director Brad Peyton, who previously collaborated with Johnson in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” (2012) and gave us an unforgettably silly moment associated with Johnson’s certain muscle tissues, makes it sure that we get the full view of massive destruction scenes in his film. I do not believe big buildings can be easily collapsed like that, but scientific/technological accuracy is usually one of the last things you can expect from disaster films (I am sure that any good seismologist will have many laughs while watching the movie).
While those CGI spectacles in the film look good in technical aspects, they did not make much impression on me probably because I have already watched many CGI spectacles during recent years. Yes, I was very sarcastic in my Korean 2.5-star review on that bloated disaster movie called “2012” (2009), but I also admitted that I was often amused by its cheerfully excessive presentation of various CGI disasters on the screen, and I must point out that what is shown in “San Andreas” looks pale and mediocre in comparison.
Although it is indeed less fun and amusing than “2012” in several aspects, “San Andreas” is a lean and efficient product at least while being less ponderous and tedious than “Earthquake” (1974), another earthquake movie shaking up California. The movie is not as awful as I feared, but it is pretty forgettable on the whole, and it has already started to slip away from my mind in spite of all those rumbles and crashes during its 2 hours.