If there’s one thing you can’t fault San Andreas for, it’s false advertising. The Brad Peyton-directed disaster flick has sold itself in its marketing with massive scale destruction, but shows little else behind the film – and that’s exactly what audiences will get.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson brings his general likability and comic book character-sized frame to the role of Chief Ray Gaines, a rescue helicopter pilot working on the west coast in the area of the San Andreas fault. The good news is that Ray is up in the air in his helicopter when the quake hits, the bad news is his soon to be ex-wife (that he still loves), Emma (Carla Gugino), and their daughter Blake (the smoking hot Alexandra Daddario) are trapped in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, during the disaster.
That’s really all you need to know about the film besides the b-plot with Paul Giamatti as seismologist Lawrence. He and his partner conveniently (and ridiculously) figure out some magic algorithm that allows them to accurately predict earthquakes the same day of the first big quake. Giamatti chews some scenery here and there and does his best in a role that was strictly there to add a credible actor to the cast.
San Andreas hits every disaster movie cliché consistently when it tries to assemble any semblance of a plot involving Ray and his family. Johnson and Gugino have enough chemistry and gravitas to hold the screen, but the situations they put themselves into and occasionally laughable dialogue are beyond silly. Daddario actually comes across the best in the film, constantly bucking the trend of the daughter-in-distress by being incredibly resourceful. She’s constantly saving her new crush Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) and never loses her cool.
What San Andreas does really well is deliver on two hours of nonstop action and nonstop visual carnage. Even though the film is completely over-the-top, there are some really intense action scenes with some nail-biting direction. One in particular involves a long tracking shot with Emma in a skyscraper’s top-floor restaurant right after the first quake hits, which should have many palms gripping their arm rests.
San Francisco has been destroyed a lot in recent films like Godzilla and the Planet of the Apes franchise, but I don’t think it’s ever been as thoroughly destroyed onscreen as here. People complain about the body count in Man of Steel, but I can’t even begin to calculate how many people are dead by the end of San Andreas.
Everything culminates in a third act finale that decides to raise the action bar so ridiculously high even the most forgiving audience members are going to scoff. San Andreas does succeed in intent and never tries to be anything more than what it is: a big, dumb summer action thrill ride. And with that in mind, San Andreas is perfectly passable, empty entertainment if that’s your thing.