San Andreas (2015)

A movie with faults.

There are varying degrees of disaster movies. They range from the utterly awful (2012, Dante's Peak) to the pretty entertaining (The Poseiden Adventure, Towering Inferno). When I plan to see one, my expectations are pretty tepid - I know it's not going to be high art, but I hope it'll be entertaining enough. I think San Andreas falls somewhere right in the middle.

The story is simple enough. The titular fault line that runs from San Francisco to Los Angeles activates, causing the biggest earthquake in recorded history. A rescue pilot named Ray (played by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) goes on a hunt to rescue his wife and daughter.

It's hard not to root for The Rock - not only is he the biggest action star on the planet, but he's a genuinely awesome person. His charisma is clear on screen, but it's a bit hard to take him seriously as a helicopter pilot. He's also apparently the worst rescue worker ever, because he takes his helicopter and flies 300 miles north to rescue one person instead of trying to help thousands of the city of L.A.'s trapped citizens. The rest of the cast is easily interchangeable - Carla Gugino plays his wife and Alexandria Daddario (Woody Harrelson's muse on True Detective) plays his daughter. The cast does pretty well with what they have to work with. The problem is, they don't have much.

This script is abysmal. It's terribly predictable in the sense that whatever you see or hear onscreen WILL come up again. Ioan Gruffudd is cast as Daniel, a villain (as if Mother Earth wasn't big enough) - his sole purpose in this film is to anger the audience. I think it would have been much more interesting if he was a genuinely good guy, having to help The Rock with the woman they both love. Paul Giamatti stars as "time filler scientist" in a story line that, if taken out, wouldn't have made a bit of difference. He's simply there to fill screen time and spew exposition on why earthquakes happen. Newsflash, we understand why earthquakes happen. Some kid stars as "comedic relief character", as you'd expect, along with his brother, who stars as "contrived love story guy", because we simply have to appeal to everyone. There were two other rescue workers introduced at the beginning that never appeared again, which was unfortunate, because I think they could have added to the story.

That being said, we don't watch disaster movies for the story, do we? We watch them for the destruction, and that's where San Andreas thrives. Most of the CGI is fantastic - buildings crumbling, bridges collapsing, cruise ships capsizing - they all look amazing. There was only one scene, the opening scene of an SUV tumbling down a cliff, that looked awful. The rest was really good. AT&T Park folding in on itself was particularly satisfying. Being from this area, it is interesting to see a fictional version of your city being destroyed - a thought that's always in the back of the minds of Californians who have dealt with earthquakes before.

If you're looking for high art, you won't find it here, but you can do much worse  than spending a lazy afternoon with The Rock, but you can do a lot better. Go see Mad Max: Fury Road instead.

Final Score: C-