Movie review: ‘San Andreas’

Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino in ‘San Andreas’
Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino in ‘San Andreas’ Warner Bros.

Well, the filmmakers behind San Andreas deserve credit for at least one thing: They didn’t skimp on the effects.

Not only do they have Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hoover Dam getting razed to rubble in a series of giant, continent-shaking earthquakes, they even plant a sweet, CGI cherry on top of all this seismic sundae in the form of a tsunami.

The appeal of disaster movies like this is seeing civilization reduced to dust and, on that score, San Andreas delivers. When the earth is roiling and rippling like an angry ocean, it’s an impressive sight. It’s when the shaking stops though that San Andreas is a different type of disaster.

Director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), working from a rote script by Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel, Lost), seems to realize this. He starts off in high gear with a white-knuckle mountain rescue as a way to introduce heroic chopper pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) and then quickly gets the ground shaking not long after.

Ray, in the process of getting divorced from his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino, Wayward Pines), has agreed to drive his college-bound daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario, True Detective), from Los Angeles to San Francisco. But then Ray is pulled back to work when Nevada gets the shakes and Blake ends up flying to the Bay Area in the company of her mom’s rich new boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), a smooth-talking developer who just happens to be constructing the tallest building in San Francisco.

While waiting in Daniel’s San Francisco office, Blake has a meet-cute moment with a bright-eyed, young wanna-be architect, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), there from England for a job interview, and his younger brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson, Game of Thrones).

Meanwhile, back in L.A. at Cal Tech, the Chief Seismologist Who No One Will Listen To, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) — who predicted the Nevada quake that took down Hoover Dam and killed his colleague — is now even more alarmed by new information showing that the entire San Andreas Fault is going to rip open like a cheap shirt. This could be the largest quake in recorded history, one that will tear California apart and send tremors all the way to the East Coast.

It’s lucky then that he just happens to have a local news crew, headed by Serena (Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife), in his office, interviewing him about his predictive abilities.

Then the ground starts heaving, forcing Ray to abandon all occupational responsibilties. Instead, he uses his chopper to rescue his soon-to-be-ex-wife from the top of a collapsing L.A. skyscraper and then heads to San Francisco to save his daughter.

With its stock, off-the-shelf characters (shy, but brave, Ben has the heart of a lion; cowardly and wealthy Daniel doesn’t) and contrived situations that strain credibility, San Andreas fits right into the disaster-flick mold as more theme-park thrill ride than movie. Top it off with the requisite messages about family, patriotism and rebuilding, and the film touches all the bases.

But there’s one way in which San Andreas differs from its ’70s predecessors such as The Towering Inferno or Earthquake. Those featured big, famous stars of the day dealing with calamity, while here — with the exception of Johnson and Giamatti —the cast list is more likely to prompt such reactions as, “Hey, don’t I know them from [insert random TV series here]?”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it just shows where Peyton and crew wanted to spend their bucks. Judging from the results, they got their money’s worth.

Cary Darling, 817-390-7571

Twitter: @carydar

San Andreas

Director: Brad Peyton

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Kylie Minogue, Carla Gugino

Rated: PG-13 (intense disaster action, mayhem, brief strong language)

Running time: 114 min.