Directed by Brad Peyton
Disaster films have become common fare at the box office over the past few years. Intense action, sudden crises of human emotion and outstanding special effects can provide a truly riveting viewing experience, but only if it offers an original concept that draws audiences in. One can look at the likes of “The Core,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” as releases that do not accomplish this task. Such is the case of “San Andreas,” a ludicrous feature film that completely misses the mark and fails to redeem itself.
Directed by Brad Peyton and written by veteran television producer Carlton Cuse, the film stars former professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Ray Gaines, a veteran search-and-rescue helicopter pilot burdened by guilt over the death of his oldest daughter. Caught in the middle of divorcing his embittered wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), and trying to spend time with their youngest daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), Ray suddenly finds himself forced to protect them when a series of massive earthquakes threatens to level the West Coast and culminate in the largest seismic event in history.
Although the setup is eerily similar to the archetypal platform for the 1974 film “Earthquake,” “San Andreas” is a movie that ultimately lacks tension, primarily due to the fact that Cuse’s sloppily written script relies on multiple running storylines viewers have seen time and time again. Peyton only makes matters worse with his shoddy directing style, loosely tying all of the threads together but never taking the time to flesh them out. It almost feels as if he wants to prove he lacks the gusto that directors Ronald Neame and John Guillermin had in “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” respectively.
Both the severely underwritten script and the dreadful directing decisions leave the task of augmenting the plot to the three co-stars, all of whom deliver performances that are easily forgettable due to shallow characterization. Despite the fact that they have their respective moments of success, with Johnson hinting at the regret his character feels for failing to save his oldest daughter and Gugino delivering brief flashes of fearlessness, the co-stars ultimately fail to convince viewers. Even Daddario, who achieved international recognition in 2010 for her role in the fantasy feature “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,” makes it difficult for audiences to understand her character’s behavior.
In addition to exploring Ray’s personal relationships, Peyton introduces the audience to an assortment of characters: a seismologist who tries to warn the public, a British engineering student who wants to protect his younger brother and Emma’s insensitive boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), an affluent real estate developer concerned about saving his own skin, among others. Rather than contribute to the story, the supporting cast members only succeed in drawing laughs at their own expense. Each personality conveys only one emotion, failing to undergo any growth. Even Australian singer-songwriter Kylie Minogue, who portrays Daniel’s overbearing sister Susan, is unable to realize the stupidity of the movie she’s in.
The sense-shattering destruction serves as a brief respite from everything else taking place and provides the least-excruciating moments in the entire movie. Despite this, the sequences ultimately fail to immerse viewers because of the over-exaggerated visuals. Peyton could have easily avoided resorting to this so-called “method” if he had chosen to focus on the human drama and steered away from the familiar character actors.
Unabashedly disappointing and markedly shallow, “San Andreas” is yet another shining example of when a once-entertaining film genre becomes repetitive and tired. An easily forgettable blend of cliches and stereotypes, this film gives viewers nothing in return for investing their time and money in a heinously facile cinematic experience.