Carlton Cuse penned the screenplay for San Andreas, presumably the Carlton Cuse of Nash Bridges and The Strain, rather than the one who shepherded Lost and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr to TV screens. The movie’s major claim to fame, and why it did a belter at the box office, is that it was shot in 3D. As such, it’s an unapologetic deluge of spectacle at the expense of any kind of logic, depth of characterisation or self-awareness.
The latter is San Andreas’ key failing, really. Helmed by someone other than Brad Peyton, it might easily have teetered on the brink of Airplane!-type bemusement with its own absurdity and idiocy. This is a movie, as others have pointed out, where our hero Ray, (Dwayne Johnson – The Rock to you and me) who has notched up 600 documented cases of rescues to his name in Afghanistan (he’s a goddam veteran!) and with the LA Fire Department Air Rescue, sods off when he has more important matters cooking; he heads off in his chopper to rescue his wife (Carla Gugino) and daughter. I guess the sheer force of bravery, goodwill and Rock-like decency he has hitherto built up are unassailable, justifying his dereliction of duty; you can derelicte his balls!
Like Bruce in Die Hard, Ray’s wife’s looking to divorce him, having hooked up with loathsome stinker Ioan Gruffudd; if you didn’t know he was a loathsome stinker for being British, the message is signed, sealed and ribboned when he leaves Ray’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario, of True Detective fame) to die in a parking garage. But wait, all English people aren’t awful; impossibly posh Hugo Johnstone-Burt and his impossibly irritating little brother Art Parkinson are on hand to save her.
Joining the dots here, with the towering ineptitude of a swarm of Irwin Allen epics, is Paul Giamatti’s Cassandra figure (“Professor, it looks like the whole San Andreas fault line is being activated, and its headed for San Francisco!” – just as Professor Paul predicted!) Early on he witnesses the Hoover Dam being swept away like it’s 2012 all over again, except not nearly as much goofy fun. We never find out what set off this carnage – terrorists, HAARP, aliens – although I think it’s safe to say it can’t have been a purely natural phenomenon. With disaster porn like this, however, who has time for reasons?
Or consequences; Peyton and Cuse don’t care about anyone who isn’t within two degrees of Ray, so this is guilt-free destruction; whole cities are flattened as earthquakes quake and tsunamis torrent (how many nuclear power stations went down, I wonder?), and if a few Kylie Minogues or Gruffudds are taken out along the way, well they deserved it for being mean to Ray or Mrs Ray or their daughter. The score runs the gamut from Inception-esque BWAAAs to Lord of the Rings ethereal choirs with little in-between, entirely in keeping with the unmitigated bombast. It doesn’t bear close analysis why Ray must jump out of a plane (“It’s been a while since I got you to second base”, he quips to Carla as they land on a baseball field), or ride a tsunami; just be content in the knowledge that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
San Andreas has earned a sequel, of course, which appears to be taking the Die Harder route of bringing back the entire cast and sending them to another place of impossible peril (The Ring of Fire). Hopefully it will have a bit more fun with its ludicrousness.