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Go into San Andreas with the right frame of mind and you may find yourself having the most fun at the movies so far this summer. From it’s opening sequence, it’s obvious that this is pure popcorn entertainment and not to be taken too seriously, though, it is played very straight. It’s all the corny, cheesy disaster movie cliche’s possible, served up in a cinematic smoothie and topped with The Rock… and it’s a load of fun if you let it be.

Our story opens with a young woman’s car being forced off a cliff by a tremor and hanging precariously (and in defiance of physical laws) off the sheer side of a thin canyon. Enter the Los Angeles Fire Department’s ace rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) and his ex-military rescue crew. The girl is saved but, that is only the beginning of Ray’s soon-to-be rough day. Ray is in the process of a divorce from his hot wife Emma (Carla Gugino)…who has moved in with her millionaire douche boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd)… at the same time, his equally hot daughter Blake, (Alexandra Daddario) is leaving for college. Nothing brings an estranged family back together, though, like a natural disaster and just as scientist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) discovers a fool-proof way to predict earthquakes…the whole San Andreas fault decides to shift. Now Ray and Emma must reunite to go to a decimated San Francisco to find and rescue Blake, before another impending super-quake finishes the job…and as Ray is already haunted by the loss of one daughter, he vows to not lose another.

San Andreas is directed by Brad Peyton…who directed Johnson in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island…and the filmmaker mixes a straightforward approach with over-the-top situations, rescues and escapes, letting the latter provide the fun. This keeps the film from becoming a joke, but, at the same time, provides all the ludicrous entertainment we want from an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink disaster film. The script by Carlton Cuse…from a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore…is loaded with all the disaster movie clichés you could want and, from the first scene, throws out logic and physics for preposterous situations and unbelievable coincidences and it’s all on purpose and, somehow, even avoids going too overboard and entering Sharknado territory. The FX are spectacular and we witness some eye popping spectacle such as the ground literally rippling under L.A. and a massive tsunami heading into an already destroyed San Francisco Bay. It’s all orchestrated very well, on a technical level and is surrounded by a fitting score from Andrew Lockington and some nice crisp cinematography by Steve Yedlin. Peyton gives the film a very brisk pace but, wisely let’s us catch our breath, as we get some delightfully corny melodrama that a disaster film like this shouldn’t be without. It’s all intentional and if you just go with it, this movie can be a blast. This isn’t about logic or realism, it’s about The Rock vs. an earthquake and a tsunami and, on that level, it delivers big time. Sure it’s not perfect…why were we introduced to Ray’s team only to have them disappear in the first act?…but, it’s a popcorn flick and it’s goal is to entertain and not portray a situation like this with too much accuracy, that it stops being fun. The corny dialog and melodramatic situations are part of the plan…and it’s OK to have a good time with them. It’s all in your frame of mind when you sit down and put on your 3D glasses…and this is one flick where I think that gimmick works in it’s favor…and I’m normally not a fan.

We have a very fitting cast, too. Dwayne Johnson has grown from his WWE “The Rock” persona into a very charming leading man/action hero. There is a very welcome hint of vulnerability in his screen presence that keeps him from being a bit too superhuman like Arnold and Stallone fell into in the 80s. It makes him more accessible and a bit more down-to-Earth, despite being a physically imposing man. Carla Gugino is very sexy as his estranged wife and she seems to be having a fun time here, despite playing second banana to her leading man and she and Johnson have a nice chemistry together that makes the corny melodrama work. Daddario shows she is also leading lady material and is not only stunning to look at, but, has a charming screen presence and despite her natural beauty, gives off a very girl-next-door vibe that makes her endearing. She also has a good camaraderie with her co-stars and shows some action hero chops herself. Maybe a DC or Marvel film in her future? Hugo Johnson-Burt and Art Parkinson play British bothers Ben and Ollie who join Daddario with older Ben becoming a romantic interest, as a disaster film needs a blossoming love story in it’s midst. Rounding out is the always enjoyable Paul Giamatti as the stereotypical scientist who is crying earthquake to empty ears, Archie Panjabi as a reporter caught in the middle of things and Ioan Gruffudd is appropriately a douche as Emma’s millionaire developer boyfriend Daniel, who turns out to be a selfish coward…like we didn’t see THAT coming.

On one level this movie is silly, preposterous, predictable and ridiculous, but, go in expecting that and you will have a blast like I did. Sure it’s science is out of whack but, it’s heart is in the right place and it is unapologetically delivering exactly what we really want from one of these epic action/melodramas. If you go in expecting a National Geographic documentary on the effects of a massive earthquake in California with Academy Award winning dialogue and performances, you will not be pleased. Go in expecting “The Rock” to wade through an epic cataclysm and rescue his daughter as a city collapses around his muscular shoulders and you’ve got a fun time at the movies.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 and 1/2 “The Rocks”.

san andreas rating