Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars
I don’t expect too much from my disaster movies. Like most people, I grew up on them, and at this age, I know what I enjoy. For me, you have to have some engaging and likeable characters, plenty of wanton destruction, and maybe just a hint of self-aware cheesiness. Of course you can play around with these mechanics and it’s possible to create something genuinely fun and unforgettable, but “San Andreas” doesn’t do that. “San Andreas” doesn’t offer any Earth shattering originality or groundbreaking fun.
“San Andreas” does manage to entertain when it really, really wants to, but it fades into forgotten passages of the disaster movie history books. The Mother Nature run amok in “San Andreas” is fairly self-explanatory from the title; it’s an earthquake. A scientist played by Paul Giamatti is luckily around for the ride so he can supply information and give the audience simplistic explanations to summarize tectonic plate movements and what-not. “San Andreas” introduces the notion that just before a series of earthquakes strikes along the San Andreas Fault, he’s learned how to predict earthquakes. But it’s not necessarily the most helpful thing when he learns this technique minutes before the big “ones” strike.
“San Andreas” emphasizes multiple times the earthquakes we witness, on screen, are record breakers. “San Andreas” visually emphasizes this well with as the land rolls up and down like a wave pool and skyscrapers cascade into other skyscrapers. When not setting the scene, close-ups show slabs of concrete piling up, sometimes crushing unnamed innocent bystanders as they let out one final cry. And if you see this in 3D, there’s absurd amounts of rubble that litter the screen and fly at you. While this is all terribly exciting, but sometimes gruesome, there’s this pesky thing called plot that gets in the way.
Amongst the trembling masses fleeing every tall structure, is Chief Ray Gaines (The Rock). He’s the physical embodiment of a Swiss army knife. There’s no hesitation with his abilities and it seems like he’s ready to do it all at the flip of a switch. He could probably teach multiple courses on how to operate all land, sea, and air. Half way through I began to expect that he was eventually going to punch the physical manifestation of the earthquake in the face, but alas this movie isn’t that ridiculous, and that slightly disappoints me.
During his journey to demonstrate his MacGyver-esque knowledge, he has to save his ex-wife, Emma (Gugino) and track down his daughter, Blake (Daddario), who’s caught up in the chaos. There’s some nice moments where we learn about why Ray and Emma are no longer married, their inevitable reconnection, and a few other cute side stories, but it’s hard to get too emotionally attached after being subjected to awkward scenes featuring the horrified last looks of people whose lives are extinguished.
At times you’re disappointed they aren’t going balls out with the deaths and in other instances you’re thumbing your nose at the poor choice of people who die. The Avengers spent plenty of time in “Age of Ultron” making sure innocent civilians could live, but it seems like “San Andreas” made up for that by killing 100 times that amount. There’s such a fine line between enjoying disaster sadism and simply being repulsed, but “San Andreas” finds a way to do both multiple times. By the movie’s end, the tally falls in favor of distaste.