As fans of the bygone WWE Attitude Era, we’ve always been partial to Dwayne Johnson thanks to the endless hours of entertainment he provided as his wrestling alter ego, The Rock. We tend to find him very likable, and his ascent into the Hollywood elite is something of a validation for wrestling fans.
This time he brings his larger-than-life presence to San Andreas, a popcorn disaster flick that sees California ripped apart by massive earthquakes. Who better than The Rock to save the day?
Ray Gaines (Johnson) works as part of a search and rescue team in Los Angeles, and he has plans to drive his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), from L.A. up to San Francisco. When an earthquake tears apart the Hoover Dam, however, Gaines gets called in. This leaves Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), the boyfriend of Ray’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), to take Blake up north.
What none of them realize is that the Vegas earthquake was just the beginning, and soon another massive quake shakes the entire coast of California. Ray immediately tracks down Emma, while Blake ends up trapped in a car, abandoned by Daniel. She’s eventually rescued by Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), whom she’d met hours earlier in the lobby, and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson).
We then follow the two stories as Blake and company try to stay alive in San Francisco as everything crashes down around them, while Ray and Emma attempt to make their way up the coast to reach their daughter before it’s too late.
Although he doesn’t get to flash his charisma here as much as in other films, Johnson remains an amiable lead with the personality and physique to be cast as a hero in a film in which the “villain” is Mother Nature itself. He does plenty of physical action sequences, an array of impressive stunts and still manages to bring a human element to his character.
Most of the special effects are good, particularly the long-range destruction shots in which you can see the Earthquake devastate huge chucks of the respective cities. There are some nice, old-fashioned set pieces as well, including a great extended scene at a rooftop restaurant that has Ray swoop in to save his wife from the initial salvo. A few sections pull you out of the experience — the opening moments when a car tumbles down an embankment looks cartoonish — but it’s generally good work.
There’s nothing particularly interesting about the plot, but the same could easily be said about other disaster movies like Twister or Dante’s Peak, so it doesn’t significantly affect the enjoyment levels thanks to some very good pacing.
Outside of Johnson, nobody really stands out. Paul Giamatti, who plays the Cal Tech professor that has found a way to predict the quakes, is nearly a parody of himself, and Gruffudd serves no real purpose once he bails on Blake.
Gugino and the gorgeous Daddario are both fine, but there’s some Andrea Zuckerman stuff happening as the late-20s actress is cast as what comes across as a borderline teenager. She simply looks too old to be their child, which isn’t surprising since Johnson and Gugino are 14 and 15 years older than Daddario, respectively. It’s distracting.
While we noted that the uninspired plot wasn’t exactly a negative for the film, what does hurt it was some of the incredibly predictable and/or hokey dialogue. There were numerous times during the movie where we’d say the line we thought they were setting up… and then they’d say it. Verbatim. That just comes across as lazy writing.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s a mix of interesting additions and throwaways among the special features. The best of the bunch is “The Real Fault Line,” which offers a look into making the film and goes into some detail about the stunt work. There’s also a talk with and about Johnson that is worth your time.
On the other side, the deleted scenes add nearly nothing to the story, and one of them is literally the characters walking into a building with a green screen in the background. Similarly, the gag and stunt reels are probably less than three minutes combined — at that length, it makes us wonder why they were even included in the first place.
Even though it has its fair share of drawbacks (meh plot, predictable dialogue, uninspired performances), San Andreas is well paced and a mostly fun ride.