Forget sequels. Throw away your ideas for reboots, reimaginings or reinterpretations. The movie business has found a new source of ideas: extrapolating entire movies from a single plot point of another film, like growing cultures in a petri dish. “San Andreas” is the story of what would have happened to a single family had Lex Luthor’s plan in 1978’s “Superman” actually worked.
Disaster movies usually follow a defined template and “San Andreas” does, at least, tweak the formula a little bit. Instead of the long, slow introduction of a cavalcade of seemingly unrelated characters spread across different locations, this one keeps the character focus tight, on one family and their efforts to reunite across the rumbling and ruinous landscape of California as the San Andreas fault finally goes for the big kaboom.
The family in question is, unfortunately, a divided one with our hero Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), a Los Angeles Fire & Rescue helicopter pilot, estranged from his college-bound daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) and soon-to-be ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) who are about to move in with Emma’s new partner, multi-millionaire property developer Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). Meanwhile, two scientists (Will Yun Lee and an earnestly dishevelled Paul Giamatti hamming it up shamelessly) from the California Institute of Exposition Technology conveniently discover that they are now able to predict earthquakes and their magnitude literally minutes before the plot requires them to happen.
After an initial fraught rescue sequence lets you see just what a good guy Ray Gaines is, the film concentrates on moving the individual members of the family into place so that we can then spend the rest of the movie getting them back together while watching a wide variety of buildings toppling over like skyscraping dominos or collapsing like a conspiracy theorist’s controlled demolition wet dream. Yes, with the narrative subtlety of a well-timed chunk of falling masonry, the movie hammers home the message that, as the earth is literally rent asunder, the family’s rifts are healed.
Despite there being enough ham and cheese on offer to cram the cracks in the Earth with croque monsieur, the whole thing actually works thanks to the herculean charisma of Dwayne Johnson, demonstrating once again his formidable screen presence and, of course, being the only Rock the earthquake can’t crumble. He manages to make the hero likeable and cheer-worthy despite spending most of the movie having appropriated a desperately needed rescue chopper and ignoring thousands of other victims in order to rescue members of his own family hundreds of miles away.
Aware of the thinness of its human story, the film wastes no time in bringing the big-scale destruction, with the Hoover Dam biting the big one inside of twenty minutes and then the shaking and the shimmying just building from there. The special effects, although generally good, are patchy in places – especially when there’s a transition between the digitally created mayhem and the real locations. By about half way through you may start to tire of the latest shot of a tall building falling to bits but if you keep the faith, there’s a tidal wave to cleanse the palate before too long.
Absurd, scientifically dubious and corny as Hell, “San Andreas” wastes guest stars like Kylie Minogue and Colton Haynes in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos while giving far too much screen time to the likes of Art Parkinson (although at least we now know where “Game Of Thrones”’ Rickon Stark has been all this time) but despite its many flaws still manages to be a pretty good time. Absolutely one to see on the big screen while shovelling popcorn into your face as the better-than-average 3D rattles your eyeballs, there’s no denying this film delivers exactly what it promises: gratuitous high concept disaster porn and The Rock defying nature with a winning bravado. But if you’re after more than demolition on a geographic scale and a series of increasingly improbable narrow escapes from falling brickwork, “San Andreas” is unlikely to rock your world.