Plenty Of Fault To Go Around For Broken "San Andreas"

At the 90-minute mark of one-size-fits-all disaster pic “San Andreas,” helicopter-rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson”) nonchalantly navigates a motorboat through stacks of dead bodies. The infamous San Andreas Fault line has ruptured leaving Gaines and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) to comb the flooded, funereal streets of San Francisco for their college-age daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario).

It’s not Gaines’ disregard for the death and destruction around him or his blatant dereliction of duty that turns the story around him to rubble. No, moviegoers have embraced selfish action heroes before. It’s that his attitude – and that of the film he’s in – is contagious, turning what might have been 2 hours of spectacle into 2 hours of blindered shoulder shrugging. He doesn’t care, so we don’t care. It’s a sentiment tied in a nice bow by the picture’s absurd “Now we rebuild!” closing. Blind optimism where there should be grief, literal flag-waving where there’s been very little heroism.

Earthquakes are scary. Even a minor quake can change a person, leaving behind an uneasiness that isn’t quick to leave.

But “San Andreas” is never scary, not in its torrents of lowest-bidder computer-generated imagery, not amidst story elements that evoke the ill-fated 1997 Tommy Lee Jones vehicle “Volcano,” and especially not when Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) tells us how scary they are, mostly with junk science and an early, unearned emotional catharsis.

Giamatti’s character is seemingly on hand to counteract Gaines’ stunted heroism by actually, you know, saving lives, but he never crosses paths with our lead, nor does he seem to save anyone in particular with his newfangled tectonic predictive equations.

By closing Giamatti’s character off from the main story, director Brad Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore”) and screenwriter Carlton Cuse (ABC’s “Lost”) flub the very thing they’re trying to do and end up underlining the uselessness of all the characters they’ve put on screen.

None of the performers are especially bad, which is a minor miracle considering the film’s raft of dopey exclamatory dialogue. But “San Andreas” serves as a pretty scathing indictment of Dwayne Johnson the movie star. He’s become predictable in all the wrong ways, rarely taking chances, his muscles growing conversely to his charm. The sillier the project, the more serious he wants to be, and it’s sinking a once promising career.

The movie has some fun with its lone human villain – Ioan Gruffudd as Gugino’s new scumbag architect boyfriend – but it hits the same dead-end as every other story element. There’s no vision, no plan, no desire to do anything that we haven’t seen done before, with both director and writer tirelessly painting in exhausted cliches. The less said about the two young English lads that team up with Gaines’ daughter, the better.

The past half-decade has proven action filmmaking alive and well with wondrous sequences both practical (Tom Cruise swinging atop the world’s tallest skyscraper) and artificial (an anthropomorphic raccoon instigating a prison riot). And then there’s “San Andreas.” Empty, cynical destruction porn that’s twice as dumb as it should be and not half as enjoyable.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: May 29, 2015
Studio: New Line Cinema (Warner Bros.), Village Roadshow Pictures
Director: Brad Peyton
Screenwriters: Carlton Cuse
Starring: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language)