Review: San Andreas

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: A series of earthquakes along the San Andreas fault spells disaster for California. With his daughter trapped in a devastated San Francisco, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue copter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) set out to rescue her.

REVIEW: The popularity of disaster movies has always come and gone in waves. An early staple of the Hollywood Golden Age, after a long dormant period the genre became ultra fashionable in the seventies with movies like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, EARTHQUAKE, etc, before having yet another comeback in the nineties with TWISTER, DANTE’S PEAK and most notably INDEPENDENCE DAY, which took the old seventies approach and married it to a sci-fi alien invasion flick. The director of that film, Roland Emmerich, soon turned disaster sagas into his “thing” but now he’s got competition with Brad Peyton‘s SAN ANDREAS, a movie which tries to be louder, goofier and more fun than Emmerich’s similar 2012.

For the most part, SAN ANDREAS succeeds, but it’s evidence of a real shift in disaster film-making. Hollywood seems reticent to make a really convincing disaster film, so when Emmerich’s movies or SAN ANDREAS comes along, the result is ultra campy and cartoonish. Unlike the seventies disaster movies, which were scary because most of them potentially could happen (especially the best of all of them, THE TOWERING INFERNO, which is based on the simple but chilling premise of people caught in a burning building with no way out), movies like SAN ANDREAS don’t want you to be scared. They simply want you to have fun watching the carnage in 3D making this part of a weird disaster-porn subgenre. Yet, as bizarre a trend as this is (which is a huge part of many superhero movies to the point it’s a cliche many of them now try to avoid) it can’t be denied that for what it is SAN ANDREAS is relatively good fun.

The disaster certainly is larger than life, with Los Angeles and San Francisco collapsing in an apocalyptic way, but Peyton spends very little time focusing on the aftermath of the carnage. The gore is kept to an absolute minimum, making this little more than a cartoon. Still, this approach makes the ultimate brainlessness of it all go down smooth. The story – as it is – is stripped to the bare bones. Basically, “mom and dad try to rescue their kid”. The twist – natch – is that dad is basically a superhero that’s too macho for tights and a cape. The premise is larger-than-life, and in the lead, so is Johnson. He looks like a kind of next-level human, making a bit where Gugino is divorcing him to go live with Ioan Gruffudd‘s wimpy businessman laughable. I mean, he’s THE ROCK., and not only that but he’s presented as almost completely without character flaws, although the idea that he’s essentially stealing his work emergency service helicopter to go on a personal mission is totally glossed over.

Johnson really is the movie’s biggest asset, even more than the admittedly impressive 3D visuals, although as sharp as they are it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Johnson’s charisma and likability sells the film right from the get-go. Gugino and him make a solid pair, with the two of them having worked together a few times before giving them a good dynamic. Alexandra Daddario is also a good choice to play the college age daughter. She’s very likable and a bit of a heroine in her own right and the filmmakers waste no opportunity to use 3D to showcase her extreme good looks, with her being introduced in an oogle-worthy scene wearing a black bikini, while most of the third act has her stripped to a wet t-shirt. Hey, I’m not complaining.

One area the film falls short in is the ensemble aspect. That was always the thing I looked forward to most in disaster movies, but Johnson and his family are the total focus here. Paul Giamatti is around for a bit of exposition as the Cal-tech professor who predicts the quakes, while Gruffudd is quickly written off as a sleaze whose demise you’ll be anticipating from his introduction. Daddario gets a love interest in Hugo Johnson-Burt sporting an extremely plummy English accent, while Game of Thrones’ Art Parkinson plays his younger brother, who naturally is in constant jeopardy.

Obviously, you’re not going to walk into SAN ANDREAS expecting an especially inspired or sophisticated piece of entertainment. For that, go see FURY ROAD (again – and yes, you should). But, if you don’t mind shutting your brain off for 110 minutes, SAN ANDREAS is goofy, cheesy fun even if it’s not quite as fun as the classic seventies disaster movies its imitating.

San Andreas



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.