San Andreas Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario. Directed by Brad Peyton. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
When a “swarm” of massive, deadly earthquakes hits California, endangering thousands of people and causing untold damage to major cities, Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) does what any responsible first responder would do: He ditches his duties, takes off in his rescue helicopter and devotes essential emergency resources to saving his estranged wife and teenage daughter. Thousands of people may die, but the most important thing is that Ray is reunited with his family.
That kind of mushy storytelling characterizes moronic disaster movie San Andreas, in which California is nearly destroyed by earthquakes but the human spirit always prevails in the cheesiest way possible (cue tattered American flag unfurling in slow motion). Johnson’s charm only goes so far as Ray, a superhumanly nice guy who’s introduced saving a woman from a car that’s about to fall off a cliff. Ray stares mournfully at the divorce papers sent by his wife Emma (Carla Gugino), but it’s clearly only a matter of time before she ditches her rich-developer beau (Ioan Gruffudd) for a real man of action.
The earthquakes help, as Emma’s weasel of a boyfriend leaves Blake (Alexandra Daddario)—Emma and Ray’s daughter—to fend for herself, and Ray swoops in to save both of the women in his life. Everything about San Andreas is painfully predictable, from the doomsaying scientist (Paul Giamatti) warning about dangerous fault lines, to the last-minute sacrifice of a minor character to save an anonymous kid, to the many impossible feats that Ray performs to protect his family.
Director Brad Peyton, who previously worked with Johnson on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, channels disaster expert Roland Emmerich, but he lacks Emmerich’s occasional sense of the absurd. San Andreas is pure schlock, only funny in how hokey it can be. Its wholesale devastation of California is an impressive feat of special effects, but the destruction eventually becomes repetitive. When the main characters are invincible and everyone else is expendable, even a series of record-setting earthquakes stops seeming like much of a big deal.