Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd
Good disaster movies are few and far between these days. With superheroes, costumed vigilantes, fast cars defying the laws of physics and giant robots smashing the crap out of one another dominating the multiplexes, it feels long overdue that cities and notable landmarks succumb to Mother Nature’s brutal and unforgiving wrath.
San Andreas attempts to recall the Irwin Allen disaster films of the seventies. But while the action may be spectacular, the same can’t be said about the characters or the screenplay that glues it all together.
Dwayne Johnson plays Ray, a first responder helicopter pilot for the Los Angeles Fire Department. When he discovers that his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), and daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) are moving in with Emma’s well to do rich architect husband, Ray’s plans to spend a last weekend with Blake before she heads off to college. These plans are cut short when Mother Nature unleashes her first wave of mayhem upon the Hoover Dam in Nevada.
Thanks to some nifty science talk by Paul Giamatti’s scientist, it turns out the whole San Andreas fault line is about to go off, and before you can scream “EARTHQUAKE!” Los Angeles and San Francisco are reduced to naught but rubble. With Blake trapped in San Francisco, Ray and his wife jet off to rescue her with nothing but their guile to take on Mother Nature herself.
If you’re looking for some over the top destruction porn, then you’ve come to the right place. San Andreas more than delivers on the spectacle. From the Earth shattering opening at Hoover Dam to a barnstorming tsunami scene, the Earthquake sequences themselves are gripping. Plus, with recent tragic events in Nepal and even the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the images played out on screen in San Andreas are afforded an extra tragic and frightening dimension.
It’s a shame then that not much more time was spent developing the script and constructing a narrative worthy of the film’s destruction. Kudos to the creative team for deciding to focus on one family’s adventure through all the mayhem, but given the level of devastation, the lack of victims suffering in the aftermath of such a terrible and tragic even gives the film a disturbing hollowness.
The three leads make for a likeable family trio, with Johnson at his charismatic best and Gugino and Daddario throwing themselves into proceedings with gusto, but the script is so miserable, the dialogue so cringe worthy, that it all seemed like an afterthought. A tragic back-story, which virtually amounts to nothing, seems to have been forced in to try and add some extra ‘depth’ to the characters.
The great Paul Giamatti meanwhile appears in the unenviable role of Science Exposition Man, appearing only to deliver long speeches on Earthquakes and effectively explain the plot. And let’s not even get started on the two brothers from England…
Overall, fans of disaster movies may enjoy the good old-fashioned heroics and level of destruction on display, but there’s no escaping the atrocious dialogue and ham-fisted characterization that comes with it.