I’m something of a sucker for disaster movies. “Earthquake,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno” – bring 'em on. I’m not sure there’s ever been a disaster movie that was actually a good movie, but that’s almost beside the point. The point is to watch things blow up real big.
“San Andreas” doesn’t have the accouterments of the genre at its best: no cavalcade of slightly over-the-hill stars, no scenes of panic in the White House, etc. But it’s a respectable entry anyway. Dwayne Johnson – would it really be so terrible if he still billed himself as The Rock? – plays an active-duty Los Angeles Fire Department search-and-rescue helicopter pilot who, once the Big One hits, spends much of the movie rescuing his wife (Carla Gugino), who is divorcing him for a ninny billionaire, and then, mission accomplished, saving his daughter (Alexandra Daddario), who is trapped in the rubble that used to be San Francisco. (This part plays out a bit like an apocalyptic version of “Taken,” with Mother Nature subbing for the kidnappers.)
The CGI effects in this film, directed by Brad Peyton, are quite remarkable and help take one’s mind off the cornball disaster-brings-families-together underpinnings. Johnson is stalwart – boy, is he stalwart – and the rest of the cast does a good job of mimicking fright while, no doubt, hollering in front of a blue screen inside a studio. Paul Giamatti plays a Caltech scientist who blows the whistle on the Big One, though not with very much lead time at all.
I do wish the film had played up a bit more how obnoxious these seismologists can be – they’re practically gleeful – when reporting the bad news on TV. And the film ends on an upbeat note that can only be called wishful thinking. If you were hoping for a sequel, “San Andreas – The Aftershock,” you’re way too cynical for these auteurs. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language.)