It’s really not my fault that I cracked up a few times while the ground was shaking and buildings were collapsing out the wazoo. San Andreas is totally cheesy – and knows it. And that sort of makes it okay. It doesn’t have the same guilty-pleasure appeal as Furious 7 (that other recently-released action-adventure movie with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), but it is what it claims to be: a formulaic disaster movie that showcases the Rock’s ‘sensitive’ side.
Johnson plays Ray, a heroic helicopter pilot with Los Angeles County Fire and Rescue who’s carrying the burden of losing one of his own children in a tragic accident. Just as his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) files divorce papers and plans to move in with some slick, rich architect dude, the San Andreas fault starts to give way, triggering a magnitude 9 earthquake across California, prompting Ray and Emma to embark on a treacherous journey to San Francisco to try and find their college-bound daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) among the ruins.
Meantime, Blake befriends Ben and Ollie (Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkison), two sweet brothers visiting from England, and together they manage to stay one step ahead of the grim reaper while waiting for Blake’s chopper-pilot-hero dad to save them. Because, you know, that’s what he does for a living.
Ray’s not the only hero though. Paul Giamatti plays a Cal Tech professor who figures out how to predict the killer quakes and becomes a one-man early-warning system (with some help from his students and a reporter played by Archie Panjabi, aka Kalinda on The Good Wife).
San Andreas does show mass destruction on a massive scale – and presents a scary scenario for residents and visitors to California, and everywhere else in the world that may or may not sit on a fault line. But ultimately, the movie is about one family’s reconciliation and redemption. An extremely high body count is implied, but not really shown. And there’s no real sense of character development. Or aftermath. Or explanation for why it’s okay that Ray basically abandoned his duty to the community at large to fly to the rescue of his ex and their kid. But let’s not quibble over the details. San Andreas is a fast-paced, largely-forgettable flick that throws a lot of dots at the screen in rapid succession… then connects them… as the earth continues to shake… more buildings fall… people run for their lives… lots of stuff is crushed… and they all live happily ever after. Except for the ones who don’t.
The film is appropriately rated PG-13 and is never all that tense or terrifying. If you’re going to see it, a big screen helps. But the 3D doesn’t add much.