If you were afraid to swim in the ocean after watching “Jaws,” you might be just as reluctant to visit San Francisco after seeing this spectacular disaster flick. Directed by Brad Peyton (Journey 2), “San Andreas” features a character-driven plot as riveting as its dizzying special f/x.
The film stars Dwayne Johnson as Ray Gaines, a highly-decorated helicopter pilot with over 600 rescues on his resume. At the point of departure, we find the fearless L.A. Fire Department chief risking life and limb to pluck an accident victim (Stephanie Johnston) from a car dangling precipitously over a deep canyon. To you or me, attempting such a dangerous maneuver would be unthinkable, but to Ray, it’s merely business as usual.
Meanwhile, Professor Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) is delivering a lecture at California Institute of Technology on the incredible power of earthquakes. Then, when a colleague (Will Yun Lee) detects some unusual seismic activity in the vicinity of the Hoover Dam, the two quake chasers rush off to observe the event firsthand.
They arrive in time to witness the considerable wrath wrought by a shift in tectonic plates registering 7.1 on the Richter scale. Worse, their state-of-the-art gizmo indicates that this event wasn’t an anomaly but rather a precursor to an impending disaster of much greater magnitude.
The ensuing rip in the San Andreas fault wreaks havoc all across the State of California. Of course, Chief Gaines jumps into action, plucking his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), from the roof of a teetering skyscraper before pointing the chopper in the direction of the epicenter, San Francisco.
That’s where their terrified daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) called from after being abandoned by her mom’s billionaire boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd). At least she is in the company of a couple of chivalrous, young British lads (Art Parkinson and Hugo Johstone-Burt).
Nevertheless, the search is on, as the desperate parents negotiate a perilous gauntlet to the Bay Area via air, sea and land, encountering everything from turbulence to tsunamis to landslides en route. Unfolding like a classic Seventies disaster flick, San Andreas serves up a smorgasbord of readily-identifiable archetypes: the musclebound hero, the effete coward, the damsel in distress, the terminally-nerdy professor, and so on, each played with perfect aplomb by a talented cast.
Still, the best reason to catch this bombastic summer blockbuster is for the eye-popping panoramas which must be seen in 3D to be appreciated fully.