Movie Review: Rock on — California crumbles in fun, dumb ‘San Andreas’
The total destruction of California is a cause for celebration in “San Andreas,” a gleefully silly summer thrill ride that takes perverse pleasure in wiping Los Angeles, San Francisco and pretty much everywhere in between clean off the map.
Director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) shakes the state like a child smashing a model city in his playroom. Like watching things crumble? “San Andreas” is the crumbliest disaster movie in memory, and skyscrapers, ball parks and major monuments all get rocked before its credits roll.
It’s a movie that never lets up, and keeps topping itself by elevating its own levels of ridiculousness. By land, by sea or by air, “San Andreas” is a movie that is out to entertain you and deliver a lot of bang for your buck, and gosh darn if it doesn’t deliver.
The Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson stars as Ray Gaines, an L.A. firefighter who specializes in daredevil helicopter rescues. Back on the home front, his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) has just hit him with divorce papers, as she and their daughter, Blake (“True Detective’s” Alexandra Daddario), are preparing to move in with her new boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).
Elsewhere, we catch up with a college professor (Paul Giamatti) who has just discovered a new method for predicting earthquakes. And wouldn’t you know it, his readings are off the charts along the San Andreas Fault, which runs 800 miles up the spine of California and has long been ready to deliver The Big One.
Then the shaking begins. Los Angeles is hit first, and though millions of people are at risk, Gaines makes it his mission to save just one, Emma. Whether or not this makes him a poor rescue worker is irrelevant: “San Andreas” only has time to focus on a few characters, and if we didn’t meet them before the quake hit, then we’re not going to at all.
Gaines nabs Emma in a daring air rescue, and then the two set off to San Francisco together to rescue their daughter, because what better to do in the middle of a massive earthquake then set off on a 400-mile road trip. Blake, who is a few years past the needs-rescuing-by-her-parents age (Daddario is 28, just 15 years younger than Gugino and 14 years younger than Johnson), is trapped in an office building and attempting to get out with the help of a cute British boy (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother (Art Parkinson). Amid the unfathomable destruction around them, a love story blossoms, because “San Andreas” has to hit its marks.
At its core there’s an endearing earnestness to the movie and the way it adheres to its formula and genre conventions. It makes a point to show the Hollywood sign turn to rubble, but it is every bit an old-school Hollywood disaster picture. You can be cynical about “San Andreas,” but the movie plays it totally straight, and it’s hard not to sit back and let it rock you.
There is a crassness to the way the film appropriates 9/11-like imagery, especially in the flag-waving closing moments, but “San Andreas” never pretends to be any less subtle than the Rock’s physique. It’s a hulking mass of wanton destruction, and a stupid-fun carnival of carnage.
Rated PG-13: for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language.
Running time: 107 minutes