San Andreas is a film about how to repair your marriage through the use of a major catastrophe. It also is one of those movies that implies the deaths of thousands of people in a kind of awe-struck way, what I guess you could call mass-destruction porn.
Named after the fault that runs up the spine of California, San Adreas hearkens back to the disaster movies of yore. But in a switch, unlike the Irwin Allen films of the ’70s (including Earthquake), San Andreas does not have a large, all-star cast, with one of those posters with small photos of all the recognizable actors. Those films jumped from actor to actor–one may be stuck in an elevator, or one may be incinerated while having an affair. Instead, San Andreas basically focuses on only three characters.
Dwayne Johnson is the big name here, as it were. He is a super-duper rescue helicopter pilot for the L.A. fire department. In a prologue, we see him and his team rescue a young woman from a a car teetering on the edge of an abyss. Forget about the team, though, as when the “big one” hits he completely abdicates his duties to the citizens of Los Angeles to save his ex-wife and daughter.
Before that though, we get Paul Giamatti as a seismologist who is developing a way to predict earthquakes. He happens to be right on top of Hoover Dam when an earthquake rocks it. In films, disasters like this only happen at recognizable landmarks. Giamatti has the sad task of giving us all the scientific info in grave tones, including, in a warning to San Franciscans, “God help you all.” How he was able to give his lines without laughing is testament to his talent.
So we see L.A. destroyed, and Johnson (and his biceps) rescue his estranged wife (Carla Gugino). She’s now living with an architect (Ioan Ruffud) who is building the tallest building in San Francisco (foreshadowing!) Johnson’s daughter (played by Alexandra Daddario and her spectacular breasts) is up in Frisco when she’s trapped in parking garage. Her would-be step-father abandons her, but a plucky young Englishman and his even pluckier kid brother rescue her, and try to get to high ground.
Meanwhile, Johnson and Gugino play a game of planes, trains, and automobiles getting from L.A. to San Francisco. This is all intertwined with some pretty great special effects of buildings crumbling, a cargo ship crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge, and the TransAmerica building falling over. (where’s the shot of Alcatraz dissolving to dust?) I read an article on how scientifically accurate San Andreas is, and of course, not much. There is no concession to the way buildings are built in California now–they wouldn’t topple like houses of cards. Also, an earthquake along the San Andreas would not cause a tsunami because it is not underneath the water.
San Andreas is pretty dumb but fun, as long as you view it in the right circumstances. My girlfriend and her son enjoyed it, and I got into it, identifying all the cliches that abound (Johnson and Gugino had another daughter who drowned–foreshadowing!). Johnson may not be suited for Shakespeare, but he is perfect for lines like, “Let’s go get our daughter.”
My grade for San Andreas: C.