Where’s Irwin Allen when you need him? He was the Master of Disaster, a director and producer who gave us misery masterpieces like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” films that gave cinematic calamity a good name. Allen’s mastery of the form is sorely missing from a new earthquake movie that rumbles but fails to shake up the audience.
In “San Andreas” Dwayne Johnson, the actor formerly known as The Rock, goes head to head with his biggest foe ever—the tectonic fault line that runs through most of California.
He plays Ray, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot who tries to save his wife (Carla Gugino) and daughter (Alexandra Daddario) in the wake of a devastating earthquake in San Francisco. How big is the quake? “Even though it is happening in California,” says a seismologist (Paul Giamatti), “you will feel it on the East Coast.”
Cue the wild action, crumbling buildings and Johnson’s trademarked strained neck muscles.
Come to see The Rock! Stay for the collapsing digital buildings! “San Andreas” is an orgy of CGI with pixel dust billowing out of hundreds of buildings made of bits and bytes. There is much computer artistry on display, but sadly little artistry of any other kind.
Johnson is tailor made for big action movies, but here he is done in by a script that uses lines like, “I know this sounds crazy but…” as a crutch to push the action forward. Unfortunately the big set pieces actually get duller as they get bigger. Not enough variation—Look everyone! There’s yet ANOTHER building falling apart!—and lackluster 3D make “San Andreas” on of the most visually uninteresting action flicks to come along in some time.
The only thing less interesting than the look is the dialogue, which consists mostly of the actors mouthing, “Are you hurt?” or “Oh, this is not good,” or my favourite, “It’s an earthquake!” The only cast member given more to do is Giamatti, who, as Mr. Exposition, must explain, ad nauseam, why earthquakes happen. “Lost” screenwriter Carlton Cuse, appears to have used only half his keyboard to peck out the script.
“San Andreas” is a natural disaster picture but it didn’t have to be a cinematic disaster. Johnson is charismatic and funny, so why not give him a chance to flex those muscles here? The movie is too earnest by half, from the schmaltzy score that swells underneath the scenes of chaos to the heartfelt reconciliation scenes between Johnson and Gugino—Ahhh… don’t you have something better to do, like rescue your kid, than discuss what went wrong in your marriage right now? Instead, why not have some fun with the over-the-top action? Perhaps it would have been funny to see the snooty woman Gugino is lunching with when the first quake hits get eaten up by the splitting ground. Alas there is no such campy pleasure to be had in “San Andreas.” As it is I hoped the ground would open up and gobble up whole the movie. What a disaster.