San Andreas certainly doesn’t leave anything up to the imagination. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is entirely up to the viewer. It can be a good thing because director Brad Peyton chooses to highlight his disaster film in all of its destructive glory, showing nothing but complete destruction for practically the film’s entire runtime. But it can be a bad thing because whenever the film offers a momentary break from the destruction the characters and the conversations can’t stand on their own. The film will surely please those that are looking to watch two hours of a city being destroyed, but its script and characters are the true disaster.

Chief Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is the leader of a rescue helicopter for the LA Fire Department. He’s a father to Blake (Alexandra Daddario), his college-aged daughter and is going through a divorce with his wife Emma (Carla Gugino). After a strong earthquake hits Nevada and destroys the Hoover Dam, Gaines is called away to provide rescue support. But a local professor (Paul Giamatti) has finally developed a way to successfully predict earthquakes and he determines that an even larger earthquake is set to rock the west coast. When this massive quake does hit, Gaines sets out to rescue his wife and daughter from the collapsing city around them.

There’s been a definite lack of disaster movies in our multiplexes lately, so watching The Rock rescue people from a massive earthquake certainly has its enjoyable moments. The special effects in the film are actually pretty convincing, allowing the viewer to feel fully wrapped up in the destruction. Early on in the film there’s a great long take that follows Emma as she tries to survive the quake while trapped on the top floor of a very large skyscraper. It really makes you feel like you’re there with her, experiencing a truly terrifying moment. The film doesn’t shy away from showing some deaths, but it would have been to the film’s benefit to adopt an R rating. There’s a scene where glass from a large building is falling down to the ground on people below and this brief moment would have been much more effective if they had shown the glass actually cutting people. Films like this one don’t necessarily need to be bloody to work, but to tease a bloody moment like this and not show it feels disappointing.

Several moments in the film feel reminiscent of Gareth Edwards Godzilla. While that film was a monster movie first and foremost, it showed the destruction from a human perspective which gave the film some disaster movie elements. Even though the destruction in that film was caused by giant fighting monsters, it felt much more grounded than some of the destruction in San Andreas. Occasionally, Brad Peyton goes a little too far over the top, which would have been fine if the film didn’t take itself so darn seriously. The one exception to this is the inclusion of a massive tsunami in the film’s third act. It’s definitely ridiculous to watch, but this sequence has such an awesome sense of spectacle that it’s hard not to be wowed by it. The rest of the destruction is serviceable, but it’s never able to reach the heights of the tsunami.

It’s when the characters actually stop and talk to each other that things really fall apart. Not only is the dialogue clunky and the characters one-dimensional, but the film constantly feels the need to spell things out to the audience. Early on in the film Gaines calls his daughter and their conversation reveals that Gaines and his wife are separated without explicitly stating so. But in the very next moment, Gaines opens up some mail and discovers divorce papers, as if the audience needed this paper to spell things out to them. Another instance of this is when Gaines is looking at photos of his family and we see that he has another daughter who hadn’t been mentioned before. It’s clear from his reaction that his daughter must have passed away, but later we need a detailed description of what happened in the midst of all the action. The script just isn’t very good and it’s surprising to learn that it was written by Carlton Cuse, one of the head writers on Lost. Not only is Lost my favorite show of all time, but that series was much better at merging characters and emotions with action and plot.

“It’s been a while since I’ve taken you to second base,” says Gaines as he and his wife parachute into AT&T Park. It’s an undeniably cheesy line, but one almost wishes that the rest of the film had fully embraced the goofy nature of this moment. But San Andreas is neither goofy nor completely serious, existing instead in some dull middle ground. You can throw all the money you want into the film’s top notch visual effects, but without a solid script and characters the film just ends up being really loud and really dumb.

San Andreas receives 2/4

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