Everyone loves a good ol’ fashioned cataclysm and, as avid admirers of disaster cinema as a subgenre, our desire to see city skylines topple in the most oppressively effects laden fashion typically outweighs skepticism. As the latest entry into this ever-expanding canon of schlock, San Andreas illustrates the very real threat of the titular tectonic plate separating itself entirely from the United States mainland. Triggering a so-called “swarm event” that ensures imminent and total destruction through several consecutive quakes, the catastrophe prompts L.A. rescue worker Ray (Dwayne Johnson) to employ his skill set in an effort to retrieve his soon-to-be ex-wife and daughter. Chaos ensues.
It’s hard for me to avoid nigh-think piece territory when discussing this type of film. Comparable to the superhero market in terms of both allure and volume but unavoidably lacking in personality, disaster films do little more than viscerally engage throughout reliably shoddy narratives. San Andreas employs what I consider the Mad Libs model in this regard, unashamedly molding itself after its predecessors amid a different enough but not entirely satisfactory scientific explanation of what’s happening. Superlatives are thrown around by a bookish fortysomething with glasses, of whom frantically gesticulates at a computer screen with a lot of red shit dotting a map that screams inevitable doom.
Enter stock key players and whatever bond they share, the Alpha in this case being that of The Rock whose professional knowledge influences his frustratingly gorgeous daughter’s ensuing co-struggle with two token British youths. Gugino’s character only exists as a thankless auxiliary impetus for Johnson’s Ray, of whom fails to do anything but survive as divorce fallout fails to engage us more than hurdling a fucking tsunami via speedboat. It goes without saying that emotional heft is cloying and ineffectual at best, the relationships established serving only to add the film part to what’s otherwise a natural disaster simulator.
These things need not dissuade you from seeing the unmitigated shit show that is San Andreas. As I sat in my seat, embarrassingly assuming the role of “that guy” by laughing at the schadenfreude-instilled bits of bystanders abruptly biting it, I always knew what to expect but didn’t really care about how things could improve. It’s the kind of film that ensures a particularly one-note experience, more specifically one that’s punctuated by a setting and certain special type of catastrophe that hasn’t been seen elsewhere. San Andreas just so happens to be about a series of earthquakes trying to exterminate a West Coast populace, select members of which remain front-and-center because of their attractiveness and the filmmakers’ obligation to produce but a semblance of substance.