San Andreas film review - an expected disaster

Dwayne Johnson's got predictable work to do in this CG-laden disaster action flick.

San Andreas has just the right ingredients to be nothing short of utterly predictable.

Everyday Divorced Dad (Dwayne Johnson) blames himself for an incident in his tragic past. The impending divorce from his wife (Carla Gugino) and the growing distance between himself and his daughter (Alexandra Daddario) doesn’t help - nor does his wife’s new, super-rich asshole boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), who refers to the skyscrapers he builds as his children.

Good thing Everyday Divorced Dad is a rescue worker, as there’s a giant sequence of earthquakes about to ravage most of California. If only there was a multi-national, multi-racial team of scientists headed up by a nerdy but likeable leader (Paul Giamatti) to warn everyone! Of course there is - but nobody listens to the United Colours of Benetton brigade until it’s too late.

Director Brad Peyton - whose previous credits include Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and Cats & Dogs 2 - has done his utmost to ensure San Andreas is as stale and predictable as is humanly possible.

Your mind will be challenged more on an episode of Tipping Point, but your eyes will be occasionally dazzled by long shots of the Hollywood sign and various, vaguely recognisable skyscrapers being laid to waste.

For the most part, Johnson’s quest to save his family in San Francisco is palatable fare, made occasionally hilarious by some cringeworthy close-up special effects.

The first ten minutes see a woman saved by Johnson and his team of rescuers after her car bounces down a cliff - and it’s hilarious in its unintentional comic timing as the CGI car bounds down the hill like a bouncy ball.

I almost expected a rising on-screen tally and corresponding pinball klaxon, akin to a scene in Hot Shots: Part Deux, each time a faceless passerby was crushed by falling debris or swept away by a flying sign.

However, there’s little substance to the film beyond Johnson’s inevitable family-flavoured victory. Some of the film’s destruction is uncomfortably exploitative.

One particularly squirm-inducing scene sees thousands of would-be survivors casually - and graphically - swept off of the Golden Gate Bridge by an enormous tidal wave. It’s followed by an old couple embracing for the final time as the wave rushes to greet them.

It’s one thing to depict the destruction of buildings without bludgeoning viewers over the head to remind them that people tend to die in these sort of situations - something we all casually assume, perhaps to our discredit. But to depict those so full of hope as having it snatched away at the last second, in such graphic detail, comes across as stomach-churningly distasteful - especially after the Total Wipeout-esque comedy crushings that come before.

Little thought, too, is given to a wall erected at a rescue camp for survivors to link up after the disaster. A complete lack of closure is served well by Johnson’s final, dull line - “We’ll rebuild” - as a ruffled American flag unfurls, magically, over the ruined Golden Gate. Advice for Peyton: stick to the talking animals.