Directed by Brad Peyton
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Alexandra Daddario
When the biggest earthquake in recorded history hits the west coast, one man sacrifices everything to save his daughter and his estranged wife – including, presumably, his freedom once the credits roll, as he’s certainly getting pinged for dereliction of duty. Like the odious Man Of Steel, San Andreas is a movie in which our nominal hero lets thousands of people perish in order to pursue his own personal goals.
The American nuclear family is everything here, and we know that as soon as we see Los Angeles Fire Department rescue chopper pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) get his divorce papers in the mail. We’ve already been shown he’s an all-American hero – The Rock really gets a great, corny introduction in this one – and a doting dad to teen daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), so the idea that all this mayhem is going to serve as a vehicle to weld his shattered family back together is a pretty obvious one. Even when his ex’s (Carla Gugino) new boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd) seems like a nice guy at first, we know he’s going to turn out to be an utter shit when the chips are down, chiefly because he’s rich – rich people are always assholes in this kind of movie. Call it the Billy Zane Rule.
Indeed, there are times when all the lovingly-rendered CGI chaos is treated so casually, almost dismissively, that it becomes comedy – there’s a scene where Johnson looks out of his helicopter to see the entire LA freeway system disintegrating and barely bats an eyelid. That makes his decision to desert his post and rescue first his wife, then his daughter (she’s up the coast in San Francisco) an understandable one – he’s either a charming, goal oriented sociopath who doesn’t see people as people, or he understands he’s in a movie universe and the rules are different. The more I think about it, the more I’m leaning towards the former; the only times he helps people he doesn’t have a direct stake in is when there are witnesses – first a TV news crew, then his wife. Left to his own devices, he’s happy to let the countless victims of the quake die off screen.
Paul Giamatti does better as a seismologist whose entire plot strand only exists to give us exposition that the Rock couldn’t possibly know, Indeed, Giamatti and Johnson don’t even cross paths in the film, which is probably for the best; Giamatti’s lack of practical skills and suspiciously un-American intellectual bent probably would have seen him at the top of the Rock’s”expendable” list.
San Andreas pays homage to the American can-do attitude and rugged individualism in the most ham-fisted way possible, positing that such values have primacy even over the lives of strangers. Let’s be charitable and assume that no one involved really meant the film to say that but, Jesus, it’s about a millimetre under the surface – you don’t have to tie yourself in knots to arrive at such a reading. Still,it’s a halfway decent disaster flick, as long as you can blind yourself to the thoroughly monstrous implications of the central character’s behaviour.