Mother Nature makes one invincible foe. But don’t tell Dwayne Johnson, who’s determined to stare her down with his sweaty, tattooed, bulging pectorals.
If “Mad Max: Fury Road” cranked the action up to 11, “San Andreas” makes an over-the-top attempt to keep the action going, this time registering something like a 9.6 on the Richter scale with a refreshing and cheesy take on natural disaster genre. And instead of playing the blame-game as we saw last week with the pseudo-environmentalist “Tomorrowland,” the massive earthquake that attacks the city of San Francisco in “San Andreas” just happens. It’s not the result of evil corporate types who have pushed through fracking legislation or anything like that, rather, Mother Nature just decides this is the time for the big one. And what a big one it is!
The action starts with Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a former military vet and fire department helicopter emergency expert, making a daring rescue from a cliff side. This exciting opening sequence sets the stage for what is to follow. We meet his beautiful daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who lives with her mother (Carla Gugino) and her mother’s new boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd), who is a mega-rich architect. Meanwhile, seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) investigates earthquake activity at Hoover Dam. When a big quake hits the dam, Ray has to leave his daughter to help with the rescue and recovery efforts. But Blake is headed to San Fransisco where the epicenter appears to be growing. In time, all hell breaks loose.
Buildings collapse and crumble, the ground opens up revealing the fault, and even a tidal wave throws cruise ships at the city. All the while, Ray races around searching for his daughter. “San Andreas” is like some kind of video game version of “The Impossible,” at times, with viewers assaulted by waves of action and sonic booms. And as we all know, sound technology has come a long way since the 1974 Charlton Heston “Earthquake” movie introduced audiences to something called SenSurround. And this time the visuals colorfully match the sound as 3D is used to enhance the viewing experience. I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but in “San Andreas,” the format’s use makes sense.
The recent events in Nepal, in which the death toll has reached 7,000 lives, cannot be forgotten here. And while “San Andreas” is an enjoyable romp in which skyscrapers collapse and people are taken out by falling debris without the slightest sign of blood, it is impossible not to think about the reality of such an event. And in this case, instead of the Avengers tearing up a city in order to combat an alien menace, the villain here is undeniably real. Earthquakes kill and need to be predicted in a manner that provides us with more advanced notice. Because if we learn anything from “San Andreas,” the only thing you can do when Mother Nature starts the ground shaking is to get out of the way. And this is where the naivety of this story shines through with Johnson delivering an odd closing line that may not strike the right tone.
I cannot deny the entertainment value of “San Andreas.” It’s a film that keeps the viewers interested without roundly insulting them. And unlike the leering, lurid, sexuality that permeates Michael Bay’s awful “Transformers” sequels, “San Andreas” has a little more heart worthy of family entertainment. And because it’s big with well-constructed, exaggerated action sequences, it makes for worthy summer popcorn viewing.