Disaster Movies as a genre never seem to fully go out of favour and each year we get one or two new ones to add to the mix. In recent years we have mainly been supplied with alien invasion scenarios but San Andreas takes us back to the old favourite of ‘Man versus Nature’ as Dwayne Johnson tries to rescue his family from San Francisco following an enormous earthquake. We ride along to count the stereotypes and to try avoiding wrestling and Rock related puns.
San Andreas is unusual as it contains two related but ultimately distinct story lines that never intersect. First we have Dwayne Johnson wrestling with helicopters, light aircraft, boats, furniture and anything else that rocks in his direction. Johnson plays Ray, and ex-military rescue pilot now working for the Los Angeles Fire Department as a chopper pilot. The film opens with him being Captain Awesome, rescuing both his own crewman and the girl trapped in a car hanging off a cliff following the first minor earthquake. A local news crew is in the helicopter with them (of course) to capture his amazingness and everyone gets home alive.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Cailfornia, Paul Giamatti plays Lawrence, head of the Earthquake research centre whose team is on the verge of a breakthrough allowing them to predict quakes with a degree of accuracy never seen before. Lawrence and team-mate Kim (played by the Fast and Furious series’s Will Yun Lee) head off to the Hoover Dam to test their new measuring tools. They are there when the next quake strikes and Kim sacrifices himself to save a child and create emotional distress in Lawrence to drive him through the rest of the movie.
Roll forwards a day and Ray is all set to help his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) move to college in San Francisco from her LA base. We learn she is a total babe through a gratuitous bikini shot and that Ray is separated from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino), who now lives with a filthy rich architect called Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). Bucking the stereotype it looks like Daniel is a decent guy and the separation is relatively cordial on all sides. Of course the next earthquake results in Ray being recalled to work and Daniel agreeing to fly Blake to college in San Francisco in his private jet.
So it turns out that the new earthquake prediction model is spot on and Lawrence’s storyline then resolves around how to get his message out to warn people that, although the quakes have mainly hit the south, San Francisco is going to be next and it is going to be catastrophic. Paul Giamatti is very much treading water in this role, but he is engaging and plays both the serious and comedic elements required by the screenplay very well.
So the scene is set for Ray’s wife to be in LA and daughter to be in San Francisco when each city gets slammed by enormous earthquakes and finally a tsunami. Everyone still with me…
We now go into normal disaster movie mode as Blake is moved from one perilous position to another… It turns out that Daniel isn’t such a nice guy after all (yay – stereotypes are back) and that visiting cute English Engineer (Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Ben) with precocious little brothers (Art Parkinson as Ollie) in tow are the perfect sidekicks to see Blake through to the big finale.
Along the way Ray rescues his ex-wife from a lunch grilling by Kylie Minogue in LA and then they take various modes of transport to get themselves north to San Francisco. I could go on about the plot and the various set pieces, but these types of movies live and die by their characters and whether we care about them. And we do care.
Dwayne Johnson continues his excellent post-Rock record and pulls off a perfect and lovably flawed all American hero. Blake, Ben and Ollie make a great team and each saves the others in their own unique way as their world falls apart around them. Carla Gugino is a bit wooden as Emma, but she is there mainly as a foil to Ray as he wrestles with his emotions around his missing daughter and her dead sister. Of course her maternal instincts kick in to the end as she sees her remaining daughter in peril and she becomes bad-ass sidekick lady.
No real surprises in who lives and who dies. No ground breaking twists and turn either. What we do have is a rollicking good movie of action and peril. I was very happy with the package as a whole and would happily go back for a second watch as the big screen is the proper home for a film of this nature.
Sure it is cheesy at times (but it is high drama compared to films like the 1997 Tommy-Lee Jones classic Volcano) and it ticks every stereotype in the book (bar one) nicely. If it had a plucky dog that ran round the corner at the last second when all hopes were lost, then it would get 10 out of 10. But alas there is no dog so a solid 9 out of 10 is the best I can give it. That’s it’s Disaster Movie rating – in the wider scheme this will win no awards beyond Special Effects and Sound but it is a great way to spend your evening and is certainly worth your time and money. 7 out of 10 from me.