Raymond Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is a helicopter rescue pilot who today is escorting a pair of television reporters on his rounds, which include an emergency where a young woman (Morgan Griffin) has crashed her car off a cliff thanks to a combination of not paying attention to the road and a significant earthquake that has opened up a large fissure her vehicle is currently trapped on the side of. Gaines knows what do and lowers one of his colleagues down to secure it before they lift the woman out, but he becomes trapped when it slips onto his arm, leaving Gaines to step up to the mark and rescue the rescuer, then the victim as the car tumbles into the ravine. All in a day’s work, but as one scientist (Paul Giamatti) realises, that quake could be a harbinger…
Back in the nineteen-seventies, Hollywood decided what would get the punters back into cinemas would be to pack a movie with stars and then threaten them with death, and thus the disaster movie was born. Obviously there had been precedents, indeed there had been a San Francisco earthquake blockbuster in the thirties called, er, San Francisco which San Andreas may or may not have been taking a leaf out of (the title, anyway), but it was those seventies blockbusters, the biggest produced by Irwin Allen, that really made the genre sing at the box office. This didn’t last long, as by the end of the decade the fickle public had moved on, yet these things go in cycles, and so it was by the nineties we were interested once again.
Sadly, there was a real life incident that influenced the popularity of the genre making any sight of a movie’s special effects causing a tall building to topple strongly reminiscent of the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, but in a weird move those epics on the silver screen would attempt to top that tragedy by upping the ante. None more so than San Andreas, which had not a couple of skyscrapers tumbling to the ground but whole cities, a near pornographic succession of domino-like constructions meeting their doom along with presumably thousands of anonymous victims – won’t somebody think of the anonymous statistic people?! So what really mattered was that The Rock would save his family.
That family was his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) who is recently entertaining thoughts of marrying her boyfriend (Ioan Gruffud, a hapless fall guy if ever there was one) and his student daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario, whose cleavage almost upstaged the earthquakes) who when we catch up with her is in San Francisco seeing about a business meeting where she meets cute with a nice Englishman and his younger brother in the foyer of the office block. He was Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and both he and the scamp of a sibling (Art Parkinson, who looks very little like him) came across as if they were about to break into a Family Guy parody, but also underlined that this time a bunch of major stars were not necessarily a guarantee of a hit.
Nope, what mattered now was diversity, thus the cast was filled out with an array of performers of various nations, all the better to have the international market satisfied they were being represented when that was increasingly where the big profits lay. Although the important Chinese box office may have been slightly put off that while their representative (Will Yun-Lee) was a hero in the narrative, he also died pretty outrageously in the process, exiting the movie very early on as the Hoover Dam collapsed. From then on it was an orgy of destruction peppered with occasional dramatic scenes where the characters caught their breath and related to one another, including to no one’s surprise the Gaines getting back together over their shared concern of saving Blake. As far as the actors went, all you needed to know was that Johnson was effectively Superman (you’ll believe a wrestler can fly), and as far as the action effects went all you needed to know was they were the best the budget could buy. Oh, and Kylie Minogue showed up long enough to take a tumble herself. Stupid, but not so stupid that it wasn’t entertaining, depending on your threshold for fictional, non-resonant mass loss of life, however moral or cathartic that may be. Music by Andrew Lockington.