Film review: San Andreas - formulaic fare as Dwayne Johnson braves earthquakes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 June, 2015, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 8:19pm

Unlike other disaster movies, which tend to focus on one calamitous incident at a time, San Andreas offers a triple whammy: three earthquakes, including one that is the largest in recorded history. There are aftershocks big enough to topple structures that are barely holding on after the main event. Then a tsunami sweeps away whatever is left.

San Andreas is not just about a disaster. It is about epic devastation. As implied by the name, the action takes place along the San Andreas Fault, an 1,300km fault line that cuts through California. Seismologists predict that a catastrophic earthquake along it can happen any time, with dire implications for anyone on its route, bisecting major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But despite the staggeringly realistic special effects, San Andreas is still a generic and predictable disaster movie — beefy hero, spunky heroines, brainy earthquake expert and a rich, shallow coward who gets his comeuppance.

 

Dwayne Johnson is Ray Gaines, a Los Angeles Fire Department search and rescue helicopter pilot on whose broad shoulders falls the task of saving his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino), and then flying across the state to do the same for their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario).

Gaines is wrestling with demons of his own from a previous tragedy. He is the strong and silent type, which is why Emma is now with the slick property developer Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Before the disasters strike, Blake meets a charming British engineer Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his adorable kid brother Ollie (Art Parkinson).

Together, they must dodge collapsing skyscrapers and bridges and roads that crumble beneath their feet. Some of the visual effects are gasp-inducing — like when a tsunami upends a huge cargo vessel, sending 40-foot containers flying through the air, flattening anyone in the way.

In the middle of all this mayhem is Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a noted seismologist who has made it his mission to predict quakes before they strike and whose interview with journalist Serena (Archie Panjabi) at least helps get some people out of harm's way.

Still, the filmmakers — Lost's Carlton Cuse wrote the screenplay, and Brad Peyton of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, directed — might have anticipated that a certain level of ennui is inevitable after the second series of earth-shattering tremors.

Crying children snatched away from certain death and reunited with their parents, a hapless victim being lifted to safety a micro-second before something explodes: these are familiar tropes in the world of disaster films, and they are all used again and again here. It leaves you feeling that despite the widespread havoc that unfolds on the screen, you've hardly been moved at all.

San Andreas Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario Director: Brad Peyton Category: IIA

San Andreas opens on June 4