The fatal flaw in “San Andreas” is that it tries to be something poignant and important, while California becomes obliterated. In its forced attempt to wring heartbreak from the characters, the film forgets what it really is – a big, dumb summer action picture.
There’s dumb fun and just plain dumb. “San Andreas” unfortunately falls in the latter, a movie about earthquakes and destruction, which almost feels like an after thought at times in the film. Don’t get me wrong, “San Andreas” is a big spectacle, but it comes in very mannered and calculated sections, in between characters reminiscing about what once was and what could have been. That’s not why we buy tickets to films like this.
Instead of consistent fun, we get a string of close-calls and contrivances, boats and planes appearing at the most convenient times. Dwayne Johnson stars as Ray, a member of LA’s Fire and Rescue team. When a massive earthquake hits California, he must do all of the right action movie trickery he can to save his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Together with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), they scour the remains of California for their daughter.
Meanwhile, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti, always welcomed), a seismologist and professor, is tracking the earthquake as it happens. He tried to warn everyone that this was going to happen but no one wanted to listen to him. Now that he proved all of California right, it’s time to get his message out with the help of Serena (Archie Panjabi, great to see after her “The Good Wife” exit), a journalist following the story. Giamatti is a great actor but his inclusion here is perfunctory, simply added to spew facts and rattle off a few warnings about earthquakes. It’s very much a tacked-on B-story.
“San Andreas” is a film that is not made to be scrutinized but enjoyed for what it is. While watching the movie, I kept thinking about “White House Down”, the second White House in peril film that came out in 2013. It was loud and stupid but thrilling and fun. Channing Tatum’s character had to save the day, while trying to find his daughter, who was being held hostage in the White House. Thematically, “White House Down” and “San Andreas” draw some similarities but the latter is missing the thrills and fails to fully embrace its own ridiculousness. This is not harsh scrutiny. This is pointing out that the movie fails on what it should deliver, simply going through the motions.
Director Brad Peyton takes on his first effects-laden tentpole, previously directing silly family movies. Some of the destruction is captivating but Peyton’s high-flying camera work and sometimes murkily staged action sequences try to be so big, simply to prove that he can. “San Andreas” was released in 3D, of course, which does not really help matters. Some of the scenes are muddled and the action becomes indistinguishable.
We are just arriving at June in the Summer Movie Season, so I’m confident thrill-seeking moviegoers will get something worth their time and money. “San Andreas” is an action movie checklist, rather than a fully realized film.
‘San Andreas’ rates 4 out of 10