When California is ripped apart by an earthquake, a firefighter goes to rescue his daughter in San Francisco.
There are many possible ways to describe San Andreas but it basically goes like this – even if California is falling into the ocean, it doesn’t matter if The Rock is your daddy.
And that’s pretty much the film. Mr Rock is a firefighter with a fancy helicopter, the country stars to shake itself into the sea and he judiciously abandons his post to fly to another city to rescue one girl.
Disaster movies have always struck me as extremely sinister in the way they make us care about a small set of people and then spectacularly kill thousands or millions of others around them. There’s a lot of that in San Andreas, and it can’t help but feel a bit mercenary.
That said, if you knew your family was in danger and you had the means (and the miscles) to save them you probably would and Brad Peyton’s film does a better job than most of making the main characters fairly likeable. And it does so without even having to include a dog in peril.
So we spend a bit of time with Rock, his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and college age daughter (played by 29 year old Alexandra Daddario). He’s all angry about something which we find out about later, she’s moving on with a pretty nice guy played by Ioan Gruffudd, etc. Then the earth splits in two.
Undoubtedly the biggest draw of the film is what happens when those tectonic plates collide and the sophistication of CG in 2015 ensures that it all comes apart on a truly grand scale. Buildings shiver and fall apart, roads are ripped in twain and that’s before the genre-inevitable tsunami.
San Andreas is also an agreeably localised disaster movie – there are only three major sets of characters to flit between, including Paul Giamatti’s science guy who pops up to basically confirm that everything is really, really bad. And we also don’t have to traverse the globe, letting the horrifying action play out more or less in real-time.
And it is pretty horrifying, and that’s without considering the real life quake which shook Nepal to its knees a few short weeks ago. It’s terrifying to see how these events can level a place as familiar as San Francisco and shocking to consider the toll afterwards.
That’s not really what the films about though mostly because it’s totally cornball. The Rock squeezes out a fair number of one-liners but the entire script is covered in cheese. You can guess whole exchanges before they happen and predict the outcome of most major and minor characters.
And that’s just fine, no one is expecting a layered and thoughtful experience and the performers help to elevate the awkwardness to acceptable levels. Rock does his thing (emotions are not one of them) and Gugino and Daddario are acceptable and often cleavagy. Young Irish chap Art Parkinson (Game of Thrones) is a standout and I thought Gruffudd got a bit mistreated by events. There’s also a totally random and distracting Kylie Minogue cameo for some reason.
You could say that San Andreas is a film about family and triumphing in the face of adversity but it really isn’t. It’s a film about watching a massive city ripple under the incredible forces of the Earth and basking in the spectacular carnage which ensues. And it’s a pretty fun time at that.