Disaster movies. Oy vey! They’re up there with romantic comedies in the world of unoriginal and formulaic films. While there’s no actual connection in narratives between stuff like “The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012” or “Poseidon,” the blueprint is painfully similar. So much so, I might be willing to write off the entire genre as a lost cause. “San Andreas” is a dissertation on how ridiculous disaster movies have become—not just because of the epic levels of destruction but because of the idiotic characters who are as thinly and poorly constructed as the breakaway cities that crumble into dust.
The producers of “San Andreas” are working under very faulty assumptions that we need to care about the characters before unleashing a torrent of destruction. Here’s the thing: We don’t. “San Andreas” features a solid hour of painful, excruciating story before getting to the work of leveling California and sending it plummeting into the Pacific. While the victims of a massive earthquake are fortunate enough to suffer a quick and merciful death, the audience is subjected to a more enduring punishment.
We are introduced to Ray (Dwayne Johnson), the world’s most awesome helicopter rescue pilot, as if a Fisher Price rescue heroes set was brought to life by a genie’s magical wish. He’s the best goddamn rescue guy in the world, saving texting teenage morons from plummeting to their deaths. Ray has a life outside his helicopter (not that anyone cares). It involves the tragic loss of a loved one—a marriage that has fallen apart and a daughter he struggles to find time for given the hectic demands of his job. Ray’s complicated home life gets even more complex after California gets hit by “the big one.” But wait … we’ll get there.
First, we have to meet a scientist, because every disaster movie requires someone really smart to explain what’s happening—like the audience is a 6-year-old mentally-challenged rhesus monkey. “San Andreas” gives us Paul Giamatti who thinks he’s cracked the code to predicting earthquakes. Just as he tests his theory, a giant tremor cracks open the Hoover Dam and turns everything east of it into waterfront property. As we, the grief-stricken audience, sit and wait for the action to begin, we have to deal with some scientific bullshit that does nothing to further the plot. It merely exists to give an extremely talented actor the opportunity to grimace and emote, in an effort to generate the feels. It doesn’t work. Don’t worry: There’s more pointless time devoted to push emotional buttons later.
Finally, the big earthquake hits. It’s all painted beautifully: Buildings crumble, the Earth splits in two, and everything is reduced to soot and ash. We see destruction from the vantage point of Ray and his family. Ray flies to Los Angeles to try and save his estranged wife. Together, they venture to San Francisco to find their daughter. In theory we’re supposed to give a shit about their fate. But I didn’t—not for a second. I resented them for wasting so much useless time in trying to establish their woefully underwritten characters, in an attempt to make me care. In most disaster movies, I find myself rooting for nature—especially in movies like “San Andreas,” where, let’s face it, these people deserve to die. I want the earthquake to win. I want Ray and his stupid family to befall the same fate as the terrified masses running from tidal waves. If you watch a disaster movie and find yourself rooting for the disaster, the filmmakers have failed to do their jobs well.
I like The Rock. He’s a lot of fun to watch and brings a lot of energy to these terribly written roles. But shit like “San Andreas” feels like padding the résumé. He’s a guy whose career has been built on big-budget blockbusters and franchises. Often times he’s good enough to carry these movies, but everything in this film is working against him: terrible writing, pedestrian direction, and a supporting cast so free of charisma you’d swear they worked the late shift at the Taco Bell drive-thru. That’s not fair. The late shift at Taco Bell at least contributes something to society.
This is bad. Bad, bad, bad! The one star it gets is solely for the beautifully painted mayhem provided from a team of special-effects artists whose talents are wasted on this bowel movement of a movie.