There’s something to be said for good special effects. Realism helped make 2001: A Space Odyssey so believable, and engrossed the viewer in its methodically-paced story. But here’s the thing: special effects are important, but are not the key ingredient in a good film. San Andreas doesn’t know this, as this ludicrously high-budget disaster flick has a plot so thin that it’s practically one-dimensional. The special effects will drop jaws, but the embarrassingly weak story and acting will ensure that, between the spectacular destruction scenes, jaws will be firmly closed and bolted shut.
In San Andreas, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays Ray, a rescue worker who needs to save his daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) and his ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) when a shift in the San Andreas fault causes a catastrophic earthquake. And that’s about as deep as the plot goes. Sure, there are other characters, like the seismologists Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee). But the seismologists only exist so that there will be characters talking about impending earthquakes in the hopes of somehow creating suspense, and many other characters serve a similar role of pushing the plot forward without adding anything. Blake’s love interest, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) tries and fails to spice up the story with a contrived romantic sub-plot, but in the end, he’s really just there to help Blake eventually find herself in a situation from which only Ray can save her.
To the film’s credit, it has some genuinely clever moments. There’s one scene in which Ray and Emma have to leap out of a plane, and after landing in AT&T Park, Ray says, “It’s been awhile since I got you to second base.” And the special effects are truly astounding. Buildings crumble, the earth ruptures, and beautifully detailed and realistic destruction tears the world asunder.
At the end of the day, yeah, San Andreas is a bad movie, but it’s not like it’s trying to be Citizen Kane. San Andreas is meant for people who want to chew up a couple of hours by watching The Rock save his family from an incredibly high-budget earthquake. If that sounds like your cup of tea, there’s a chance you’ll find some entertainment here. But for everyone else, San Andreas will be, at best, forgettable.
*Images from Plot and Theme, video from Warner Bros. Pictures