Not a stupid movie, but a bad one. The disasters are spectacular, but rarely used well. The real disaster here is how the filmmakers managed to somehow make Dwayne Johnson not fun.
San Andreas is a stupid movie, but that’s a given with the genre. When visual effects have evolved to the point where anything can be ‘realistically’ toppled and destroyed, there are no intelligent or realistic disaster movies. Big explosions, tidal waves, earthquakes: all real world threats, all equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. These barely ever feel like actual threats to the main characters, and the bigger things get, the lower the stakes are. When the only people shown dying from these incidents are either villains or nameless, faceless pixels, it drastically reduces the impact that a 9.6 magnitude earthquake can have.
Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot, going through a divorce with Emma (Carla Gugino) and trying to re-connect with his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). When a series of huge earthquakes hit California, he makes a dangerous journey through the crumbling state to rescue Blake, who is trapped in San Francisco.
Dwayne Johnson is one of the most charismatic people working in Hollywood today. He is funny, and can do drama and emotion surprisingly effectively. Yet here he is miraculously dull and wooden as Ray, a public official who abandons his post in the middle of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. In an opening ravine rescue sequence, it is mentioned that he and his team are a family, and that he has over 600 rescues. Obviously, that’s enough to let him off the hook for being so selfish. A more interesting film could have Ray rescuing people in LA, worried for his daughter who is taking care of herself in SF. Alexandra Daddario does a lot to make a script full of clichéd scenarios and lines work for her character. It’s a miracle considering that early on it looks as if her single character trait will be ‘looks good in a bikini/vest’. She does, but she’s also resourceful, empathising and friendly, towards two rather hapless British brothers. Carla Gugino on the other hand, cannot overcome the script, resulting in one of the most annoying, boring, and useless blockbuster love interests in recent memory.
There is potential for a more interesting, more exciting, more satirical and far less morally unpleasant film in here. It can’t be a coincidence that the only bad guy (read: sickening coward) is a billionaire architect, amongst all of the collapsing skyscrapers. But director Brad Peyton does nothing with it. Instead he employs some of the most rote and basic uses of camera to signal story – simplicity can work gloriously, but it feels both cheesy and cynical. And while some of the scenes are truly hand-over mouth spectacular, and there is a committed effort to keep them coming right after the first quake hits the Hoover Dam, it cannot overcome everything else holding back the film.
San Andreas (2015), directed by Brad Peyton, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros. Certificate 12A.