Some people really enjoy seeing famous landmarks being destroyed. Roland Emmerich is certainly one of them, a director whose big budget features have, since at least 1996, shown the utter destruction of much of the world as we know it one landmark or continent at a time.
If you’re one of those people then San Andreas is exactly what you’re looking for. This is an old school disaster movie with modern day special effects. Plot and character development are almost entirely non-existent, but that’s fine when you can see the Golden Gate Bridge annihilated. Or if you like the idea of logic being ignored in favour of big special effects sequences, then this one is also for you.
Paul Giamatti gets probably the best out of the script, isolated with a small group of scientists and a news crew as the earthquake builds up to an explosive finale. He represents the real human drama of the story, putting in a performance that really belongs in a different film.
Meanwhile, the focus is on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who plays a search and rescue pilot. When things start going horribly wrong, he steps in to save his ex-wife and daughter (Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario respectively) when they find themselves caught in the mayhem. He is a family man who just happens to be the best person to save everyone from massive tidal waves and earthquakes. His advice to stand next to a tall building during an earthquake, such as a baseball stadium, because it’s strong doesn’t work in this context. I mean, take a look at the rest of the city. Almost every other building is falling down around you. Apart from this, he’s your typical action hero, running from location to location and quipping as only The Rock can. Because a deadly situation like this needs a wisecracking hero.
Daddario meanwhile carries her equal share of the story as she tries to survive alongside a pair of English brothers who happened to be in her vicinity when the earthquake strikes. Fans of exploitative cinema are well served here, as she rocks up early on in a bikini for no apparent reason, then later spends much of the film trying to avoid knocking herself out as she runs from one place to another.
There are attempts at providing some deeper characterisation for The Rock and Gugino’s relationship, who lost their other daughter some years previously. But this is soon lost amongst the rumbles, the explosions and the vast watery damage that is inflicted on San Francisco as CGI effects soon overwhelm everything.
Luckily for all of us, San Andreas knows not to take itself too seriously, despite being played with absolute sincerity by everyone involved. It’s a great big cheesy summer blockbuster, and sometimes this level of mindless action is all you need. On that note, look out for a brief cameo from Kylie Minogue. It’s as fleeting as your memory of the film itself.