Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Alexandro Daddario, Carla Gugino
Watch San Andreas online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“That’s bad,” says a Los Angeles Fire Department worker at the start of San Andreas, after seeing footage of an earthquake at the Hoover Dam. Another expert assesses the damage on-screen, then looks at him. “Yeah.”
The movie is downhill from there.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Ray, a helicopter pilot who spends his days rescuing people from danger. He’s a professional rescuer. So when it turns out that the entire San Andreas fault is activating, laying waste to the whole of San Francisco, Ray immediately starts rescuing left, right and centre.
He hops into his helicopter to rescue his daughter, Blake (Daddario), who’s on a trip with his ex-wife’s new fella, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd in full asshole mode). But first, it turns out she (Gugino) needs rescuing from a collapsing hotel, so he rescues her. Then he rescues a street full of people from a toppling building. As the estranged pair travel into harm’s way, we discover that Ray blames himself for his other, dead daughter, who passed away after Ray – the professional rescuer – was unable to rescue her. Which is why he’s so keen to rescue Blake now. Because that’s what Ray does. He rescues.
All of this is explained with the subtlety of The Rock stamping on a packet of peanuts. That’s not because of his performance – Johnson is as likeable and charismatic as ever, the kind of star presence who can usually make even the worst movie watchable – but the script. Carlton Cuse, the showrunner of last year’s cheesy take on Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, spares no shovel power in beating every point into the audience’s skulls. “Do you ever imagine what it would be like if our daughter didn’t die?” asks Gugino, as they drive through the countryside, one of the few modes of transport that Ray doesn’t crash. (A film about Ray never managing to reach his daughter, due to the sheer number of other people his job requires him to rescue, would be a very different – and, you suspect, a far more affecting – watch.)
Even the supporting characters, such as Ioan Gruffudd’s architect, aren’t spared from the dialogue. “I never had children because I was too busy raising these,” Daniel muses, showing Blake a glossy catalogue of San Fran penthouses. “It’s the strongest building in the city,” he adds, just in case she needs somewhere safe to hide during the largest earthquake in recorded history.
The spectacle of the city being levelled is big enough to satisfy disaster movie fans, but even director Brad Peyton’s carefully orchestrated carnage is subject to the same urge to top what’s been before: one scene involving a boat’s propellers moves swiftly from thrilling to ludicrous. By the end, things are so overblown that the human cast are reduced to staring at green screens off-camera and doing their best “shocked” expressions.
The largest rumbles, though, are the film’s seismic shifts from one tone to another: one conversation tries to be emotional, only for another to be loud, and another to be flippant. All of them end up laughably bad; the movie is less perched on a precipice of awfulness and more precariously riding the tectonic plates of implausibility and stupidity, as they rub interminably together.
The epicentre of the problem is that old chestnut of self-awareness. Where something like 2012 was knowing enough to be enjoyable, San Andreas’ insistence upon taking its string of cliched characters seriously undoes most of the brainless pleasure. Blockbuster entertainment is a perfectly fine goal to aim for, but even with Hugh Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson providing nudge-and-wink jokes as earnest Brits – “My guide book has everything!” one cries – San Andreas is far from unintentionally silly fun. It’s simply rubbish.
As Paul Giamatti’s seismologist pops up yet again to stare earnestly at the camera and warn of the destruction set to occur in two minutes’ time – at one point, he “hacks” the media, 1998 Godzilla-style, only to be given what appears to be an official broadcast slot – you find yourself sighing and gazing into the two-hour abyss that opens up beneath you. Then, the sobering realisation strikes you with all the force of a 9.4 on the Richter scale: like his dead daughter, this is something not even Ray can rescue.
San Andreas is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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