by: S. Scott Stanikmas
In his second swing at the box office in less than two months, Dwayne Johnson hurls himself into the thick of things in New Line Cinema’s new disaster film San Andreas. Much like the earthquakes that dominate this film, San Andreas is a bit shaky overall, delivering some decent action sequences but never really finding its footing with a weak script and predictable plot.
The story is as simple as it can get: Chief Ray Gaines (Johnson) of the Los Angeles Fire Department is one of the best rescue-helicopter pilots there is. While en route to help out after a massive and unexpected earthquake in Nevada a series of growing quakes begins to travel up and along the San Andreas Fault. Gaines now needs to head home and save his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and their daughter (Alexandra Daddario).
This is the definition of a popcorn action flick, never really taxing your mind and just letting you revel in the mass amounts of destruction and chaos. You can almost call the plot beats from the second Johnson’s character opens up the divorce papers and meets his wife’s new boyfriend within the first ten minutes. I was shocked to learn that this film had about a half-dozen writers that worked on the script (with Carlton Cuse getting the lion’s share of the credit). With that many cooks in the kitchen I expected something a little more than the basic cookie-cutter plot that was acted out onscreen.
Johnson delivered in the big action hero role, exactly as you would expect him to. I wish the supporting cast was a little less generic feeling. They ranged from the okay (Gugino and Paul Giamatti, whose talent was terribly wasted in this film) to the downright absurd (Daddario and her apparent knowledge of everything you’d need to know in surviving a disaster). It almost felt like this should have been a Saturday night flick on the SyFy channel.
While the story may have been wanting, you don’t see trailers for a movie like this and go in expecting high drama. The action is what really counts here and it delivers. We see buildings crumble and the ground shaking. There are all manner of sinkholes and fissures that open up. Fires rage, winds become deadly and we even get a tsunami. It’s like there was a checklist the studio had and the filmmakers ran down the list one disaster at a time. At one point I found myself asking “Where are the volcano and tornado?” But they need to save something for the sequel, right?
Director Brad Peyton has some experience with big budget films, his last film being Journey 2: The Mysterious Island which also starred Dwayne Johnson. I just felt that maybe he wasn’t the right fit to helm this movie. There were times when it felt very disjointed as it jumped between the three storylines while throwing in the action sequences to distract the audience from the subpar plot.
In a season where we’ve had films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 7, a film like this feels like a major step back. All those films advanced franchise plot or character development while still maintaining the high level of action most fans expect from a big studio film. Jaw-dropping action sequences do not forgive a paper-thin plot.
While rock-solid with action, this movie is riddled with plot holes larger than the fault for which it stole its name. If your looking for a no-brainer action flick for pure entertainment, this is the summer film you’ve been waiting for. Plunk down the extra cash and see it in 3D (that was the version I saw). The effects look good enough to warrant the full immersion. There were a few moments where the green screen was noticeably in use, but they were few and far between. But if you want characterization a little deeper than The Rock getting all teary-eyed, you may need to look elsewhere for your action / drama fix.