When an earthquake hits the us west coast, an LA fire dept. helicopter pilot (Johnson) must save his estranged family.
In seismology, earthquake intensity is measured on the Richter scale. In San Andreas, it’s measured in OMGs. As Dwayne Johnson’s chopper-handling LAFD good-guy notes the Earth’s crust undulating like a fluffed duvet he utters: “Oh my God.” Fewer than two minutes later, as Carla Gugino’s almost-ex-wife of said LAFD good-guy witnesses the crumbling of a skyscraper, she shrieks: “Oh my God!” It says everything that, no matter how impressive the devastation gets in Brad Peyton’s West Coast-rattling flick, the script never gives its cast anything more imaginative to blurt.
Despite some A-grade pixel-tweaking in Peyton’s VFX departments, the director is still very much playing in the B-movie sandbox that produced his Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Not only does he enjoy sinking land masses (in 3D!), he must also love channelling the early 1970s’ silliest genres, moving from the monster movie to the disaster pic, in which depth of characterisation too often proved inversely proportional to the size of the effects budget.
At least Peyton also follows that genre’s trend of recruiting actors whose easy charisma softens much of the screenplay’s starch. The Rock has gone from being his Doug McClure (in Journey 2) to his Charlton Heston: uncomplicated but monumental. When he tells a rescuee, “Just get up against something sturdy,” you know what he really means. Meanwhile, Giamatti gives good exposition as the science-guy who uses knowledge to save lives when he isn’t hiding under a table.
It’s a shame that ’70s social attitudes equally prevail. Despite a token effort to present her as plucky and resourceful, LAFD good-guy’s daughter Alexandra Daddario is only allowed to scream, state the obvious and be last-second rescued (twice), while similarly distressed damsel Gugino needs her not-quite-ex to pluck her from the roof of a writhing building. The women in this story exist only as prizes for the heroic (but sensitive) men. Sadly another fault in a movie which should only have the one that gave it its title.
If you crave Emmerich-esque disaster-porn with a mega body count, theres plenty here to OMG at. But when it comes to character depth or plotting, San Andreas is a sadly familiar wasteland.