The plot isn’t complex—it’s a typical disaster film—but there are a lot of characters, so the movie seems more complicated than it really is. Johnson plays Ray, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot, who is in the middle of a divorce from his wife, Emma (Carla Gugino). Together they share a daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), who is on her way to college and Ray learns that Emma is moving in with her architect boyfriend, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). When Ray gets called into work, Daniel offers to take Blake to school in Seattle, but they need to make a stop in San Francisco. While there, Blake meets Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), a young British man interviewing with Daniel’s company, and Ben’s little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), who is with him solely to allow the filmmakers to put a child in peril. While all this compelling drama is going on, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a seismologist with Cal Tech, is investigating a mysterious earthquake in Nevada, which may help him predict future quakes. Think of him as Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton from Twister. A quake hits the San Andreas Fault and hilarity ensues.
And I really mean that last part—hilarity does ensue. The death and destruction is so over the top and so relentless, that I found it completely ridiculous. Every moment a character had a second to breathe, another round of destruction would hit. It was like clockwork. There are a few nice scenes here and there that show actual human emotion and breathtaking destruction—mainly when the tsunami hits—but overall, this is a movie we’ve seen before. All destruction flicks are pretty much the same: hire a large cast to cover every cross-section of moviegoer, put our lead characters into danger, (even if you know they really aren’t), and have one or two characters become almost maniacally evil for no reason whatsoever. The special effects are great and there is at least one scene where Johnson is actually able to show his acting chops. What can I say, the guy is good. It was absurd that he had an answer for every single situation and basically abandoned his job to go and maybe save his daughter, but there is something in his past that makes that a little more believable than say Dennis Quaid walking from Washington to New York in an Earth-changing weather event to save his son. There were certainly several moments where I looked at the screen and shook my head in disbelief—not because I was so awed by the images on screen, but because what was happening was truly unbelievable. The reason why these films are never that great is because they’re basically TV-movies from the 1970s and 80s, but with blockbuster budgets. I’m sure we’re due for another nuclear holocaust one any year now.
The cast does an all right job, but there’s not much to expect here considering the material. Johnson is his usual heroic self, but like I said, there is a scene here and there where he actually shows, “Hey, I’ve got talent!” I totally bought Gugino and Daddario as mother and daughter, so good casting there. They are also fine in their roles. Johnstone-Burt and Parkinson were interesting additions, but it annoyed me that the kid was there solely to put him into danger. They might as well have made him a dog. Giamatti was really good as the scientist trying to warn everyone. It looks like he got all his overacting out on Amazing Spider-Man 2. Gruffudd was the biggest disappointment here, but it’s more because of the way his character was written. And a big shout out to the casting director for casting Kylie Minogue as Gruffudd’s sister!
Overall, you know what you’re getting with San Andreas. As the movie started, I muttered, “This is going to be terrible,” and then proceeded to cackle throughout the whole film. It is not a good movie, but I had a good time laughing at how bad and predictable it was. I thought they might surprise me in the end, and have a truly human moment, but they made sure to hold true to form.