What do you call a professional search-and-rescue pilot who ditches his duties and flies off in his work helicopter to save his family when a series of earthquakes rips through California, endangering the lives of thousands? Selfish? Irresponsible? In San Andreas, however, we’re meant to root for the guy in question because he’s played by the irresistibly likeable Dwayne Johnson.
This cheerfully dumb film sees the former wrestler-turned-movie star hopscotch between chopper, plane and boat to rescue his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) from a crumbling LA tower, then their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) from a San Francisco building that’s swiftly submerging in a tsunami.
To be fair, the special effects are impressive and they yield one or two cool set-pieces, particularly a single-take sequence in which the camera follows Gugino as she struggles to make it to the roof of a shaking high-rise. But like every other action blockbuster lately – from Man of Steel to Age of Ultron – this film displays a shocking lack of consequence. Skyscrapers are knocked over, entire cities are flattened, but it’s all surprisingly bloodless; director Brad Peyton never pauses a moment for us to shed a tear, or so much as ponder over those wiped out by this orgy of carnage. It’s especially disconcerting when you consider the recent events of Nepal.
For those seeking nothing else but Roland Emmerich-style mass CGI-destruction, the ‘action’ is relentless in San Andreas. The plot, however, is flimsier than the tank-top Johnson’s daughter finds herself in during the underwater scenes. And the dialogue is so cheesy you spend half the movie rolling your eyes in disbelief. Poor Paul Giamatti shows up in a parallel track as a scientist who predicts earthquakes and sees disaster approaching, but he looks positively embarrassed to be in the film…and understandably so.
San Andreas rests on the broad shoulders of Dwayne Johnson, who works hard to try to keep the film afloat despite the awful script. It’s him, and the more-than-decent VFX that save the film from becoming a complete disaster. I’m going with a generous two out of five.