The typical disaster/action flick has little to do with an actual disaster. It is a movie designed to revel in the worst possibilities, dramatizing trauma and in most cases our worst nightmares realized. Often times these kinds of films follow a very small (or sometimes a very unreasonably large) cast of characters as they journey through the worst of the calamity. This time that apocalyptic quest is the 'big one' earthquake leveling California along the San Andreas fault line.
Although the characters are cookie cutter, the actors do manage to give some decent performances. I was also impressed that the teenager character (Alexandra Daddario) was not only one of the most competent characters in the film, she also saved the day on more than one occasion (although she did have to be rescued by the men in the movie as well). Her two tag-along male counterparts did admirably well considering that they were so clearly just the romantic interest (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) for the Daddario's character, and the bratty kid character (Art Parkinson) who also literally carries around a nearly mystical map that helps guide the plot along.
Daddario's parents, the heroic male lead (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and his estranged wife (Carla Gugino), also turned in solid performances. The Rock proves to be a strong lead, handling both the action and emotion rather well. There was a very good scene between him and Gugino that delved into the emotional reasons for their estrangement that actually worked. Although moments like that one did suffer from the obvious, we're taking a much needed break from all the action cliché. Gugino was mostly just a reactionary character, but she was her usual engaging self, and made the most of the role which only had a couple of stand out moments.
Unfortunately the exposition scientist character (Paul Giamatti) didn't fully work, because his plot-line took place almost entirely disconnected from the main characters and events of the film. He did have one major action scene, which also featured some real emotions somehow, even though we barely knew the characters involved. For the most part he was the one (along with his eager side-kicks/students) that predicted when the next big action segment was going to start, and reinforce how big the stakes were. So his character did have value and purpose, but felt kinda shoehorned in.
I should probably mention Archie Panjabi's reporter character. Since she is literally the only connection between The Rock and Paul Giamatti plotlines, it feels wrong to leave her out of the review. I just wish her character had more purpose. She felt almost like an afterthought when the writers realized there was no connecting tissue between the plots.
Not that any of that character stuff is the reason to go to this movie. Even though the characters were mildly engaging and the dialogue not super cheesy (although it did fall to that level occasionally), it was the spectacle of this scenario that was appealing. Although it did devolve into the usual destruction porn on occasion, this wasn't just another version of previous disaster films. There was a sense of scope and scale of course, but also of geography. There was never really a moment where I didn't understand where things were happening, even when The Rock ends up in the more rural areas of California. The visuals were for the most part outstanding, and the director knew how to pace the action so that destruction fatigue never quite set in.
The causal way our main characters steal their way though cars, planes, and boats is almost laughable. Although given the stakes, and the absolute destruction going on, it doesn't feel wrong.
Colton Haynes had a small role during one of the main action scenes in the movie, and he was memorable, but then we don't hear anything about his character after that scene.
Ioan Guffudd plays the 'unlikable' new love interest for Carla Gugino's 'estranged wife' character. Except he isn't all that unlikable. Sure he makes a very poor decision at one point, but he is never a villainous character as per usual for this kind of role.
The destruction at times felt awfully quick. Giant skyscrapers built to withstand earthquakes seemed to fracture and disintegrate as soon as the shaking starts. While it is all incredibly awesome visually speaking, I wonder how accurate it is in a real-world situation.
Don't get me wrong, the story was predictable, the characters totally underdeveloped, and the writing was only average. And yet, despite all the ways this film didn't elevate the genre, somehow all those standard disaster movie elements worked well together here. San Andreas is not a great film, but it is enjoyable popcorn fare.
2 1/2 out of 4 Planes, helicopters, boats and automobiles.
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.