LAFD search and rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) doesn't know that when he kisses his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario, "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters") goodbye, the next time he sees her will be within a major rescue operation, one eerily similar to the way he lost his younger daughter, a tragedy that's split him from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino, "Watchmen," TV's 'Wayward Pines'). He'll have to rescue her as well when the catastrophic event Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti, "Sideways") has been predicting shatters the entirety of "San Andreas."
In the 1970's, Hollywood responded to America's fears with a spate of horror and disaster pics. Now with global climate change in the news, the trend has begun again. Unlike last year's lousy "Into the Storm," "San Andreas" seems to have its tongue firmly planted in cheek, screenwriter Carlton Cuse's (TV's 'Bates Motel') take on a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore (2012's "Red Dawn") hitting every genre cliche so relentlessly it all adds up to preposterous entertainment. A charismatic Dwayne Johnson and his "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" director Brad Peyton's emphasis on practical effects and stunts enhanced with CGI of destruction on an epic scale help raise this one up a notch.
The film opens with a bit of comedy as an air headed blonde demonstrates the ultimate in distracted driving along the hairpin curves of the Santa Monica mountains. Suddenly a rockslide pushes her over the edge of a cliff (an early warning tremor?) and it's Ray and his team to the rescue, having to 'tip the hat' of his copter to get into a crevice. The 3D conversion is vertigo inducing and the stunt is reminiscent of "Cliffhanger." When he gets back home, divorce papers are waiting for him and when he goes to see Blake, he discovers Emma is moving in with her super rich architect boyfriend Daniel Reddick (Ioan Gruffudd, "King Arthur"). It doesn't take a fortune teller to predict how all this will pan out.
Meanwhile, in a Caltech lab, Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee, "The Wolverine") tells his partner Hayes that their predictive model for earthquakes may actually be working as it's shown a seismic swarm near the Hoover Dam. Off they go just in time for heroic acts and the beginning of a really bad day. After losing Park, Hayes miraculously makes it back to Pasadena from an unprecedented disaster site where TV journalist Serena (Archie Panjabi, "Bend It Like Beckham," TV's 'The Good Wife') awaits an interview. It's cut short when Hayes's assistants note some alarming trends on his computer model.
As Hayes and Serena work to hack into a media feed to get the word out after L.A. begins to fall, Ray will use a helicopter, stolen truck, jump plane and speedboat to first rescue Emma from the top of a crumbling L.A. skyscraper, then Emma, abandoned by Reddick in his own building's San Fran parking garage (thankfully she's had a meet cute with English engineer Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his adorable little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson, "Dracula Untold") who come to her rescue).
Sure it is absolutely ridiculous how Ray can arrive in a major urban center and locate loved ones amidst apocalyptic destruction, but with The Rock, one could almost believe. CGI gives us cities buckling in waves, toppling buildings, fire and explosions and, in San Francisco, a massive tidal wave that pits Ray's speedboat against a huge cargo ship's spinning propellers on its crest before it flips end over end into the Golden Gate Bridge. If the film begins recalling "Cliffhanger," it ends echoing "The Poseidon Adventure" before going out with some corny flag-waving optimism.
"San Andreas" delivers unrestrained spectacle for the popcorn crowd with a better than average cast and some lapses in taste. After events in Nepal, it is sure to get people talking about the 800 mile fault again, but experts have already weighed in, dismissing many of the events depicted.
Robin did not see this film.
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