Review: San Andreas – Cartoon catastrophe with a shaky premise

San AndreasThis film is a disaster … wait … This is a disaster film … Arrgh, so confused … but seriously, with all of the natural disasters on the evening news – not to mention the multitude of man-made calamities have to endure – do we really need to see an earthquake film like San Andreas right now?

Don’t get me wrong, having grown up in the heyday of the disaster flick (The Poseidon Adventure; The Towering Inferno; and the big one: Earthquake, in sensurround) I usually get a thrill out of end-of the-world survival films; but the shaky premise of this cartoonish catastrophe is drowning in so much ridiculous melodrama that all the cool collapsing buildings in the world can’t save it.

To quote Lex Luthor in the original Superman film, “We all have our little faults.” Unfortunately, San Andreas’ are not all beneath the ground, nor are they “little.”

The plot is so simple a kindergartner could have written it, and I would say one did except for the fact that I have at least a little respect for screenwriter Carlton Cuse’s work on the TV series, Lost. In a nutshell: the tectonic plates of the San Andreas fault line are shifting and despite the warnings of scientists’ we are unprepared when the largest earthquake of all recorded time hits the state of California; misadventures and mayhem ensue.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plays Ray Gaines, a helicopter rescue chief whose sole mission after the earthquake is to find his ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), and their cute twenty-something daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) – to Hades with all the poor souls, who might be between Gaines and his family, who might also need a little rescuing.

San AndreasPaul Giamatti plays the expert seismologist, Lawrence Hayes, who has, coincidentally, just devised a system that uses magnetism in conjunction with seismic activity in order to determine the next big earthquake. He must get the word out as soon as possible, and God help our inevitably doomed souls.

Let’s not forget Blake’s love-interest, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), and his kid-brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson), whom the hero’s daughter leads to salvation through the smoldering ruins of what was once San Francisco. Then there’s Ioan Gruffudd as Blake’s evil step-dad to be, Daniel Riddick, who just happens to have designed the only building in town that is capable of withstanding the force of a giant tsunami. (Why do the step-parents always have to be evil?)

San Andreas takes every disaster film trope in the book and amps them up to eleven on the schmaltz-o-meter. I believe that some viewers may even have to visit urgent care after seeing this film in order to have their eyes rolled back into the proper alignment.


In addition to the sticky, creamed-corn this movie serves up is hefty helping of absurdity. For instance: after the Hoover Dam collapses in one of the first quakes, people in California are all be unaffected by the disaster, like, ‘Oh, did you hear about that dam? That was pretty bad … Hey, nice house you have there!’ It’s like a disaster episode of Saturday Night Live’s, “The Californians.”

The Rock’s is supposed to be a big-time search and rescue hero, but he thinks nothing of stealing a police boat and piloting it at high speed through tsunami flotsam, oblivious to the thousands of people that are surely floating in his wake. And his daughter is no better, stealing an emergency radio out of a firetruck in order to impress her new friends – really, she never uses it for anything other than to show it to them.


I really could go on and on, but you get the point. The funny thing is even with all that said, this movie still has a certain unintentionally goofy charm to it that you might actually have fun watching – if you don’t currently live in a part of the country that is, in fact, a real-life disaster zone right now.

Between the Man of Steel, The Avengers and the Transformers, I am so done with seeing cities destroyed on the big screen. I get it, we have the technology to do this and have it look crazy realistic; now let’s devote some time to developing some characters we care about and a logical story that propels them into such mayhem. (I did like The Avengers films though – a lot!)

I’m pretty certain that director, Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), did not intend for San Andreas to be a comedy (a la Airplane), but it’s hard to take this movie any more serious than that classic and hilarious Airport spoof.

Enjoying this movie is going to require three things of you: 1) Live far away from any currently active disaster area; 2) Have no sympathy for anyone living in said disaster areas; and 3) Have a high tolerance for stupidity. Grade: 2/10

Photos © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.


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