San Andreas

Movie Information

The Story: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is on hand for a smackdown with a couple of earthquakes. The Lowdown: Exactly what you expect — massive computerized disaster, improbable heroics and 10 cents worth of dialogue. Efficient for what it is.
Genre: Bicep-powered Disasterthon
Director: Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Lost World)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Paul Giamatti, Archie Panjabi
Rated: PG-13



It’s big, it’s loud, it’s incredibly dumb — and it’s pretty funny, which I suspect was not the idea. It sets out to prove that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can go toe-to-toe with two earthquakes and a tsunami and come out on top by the sheer power of his biceps and a helpful screenwriter (TV writer Carlton Cuse). And it succeeds in proving just that. Whether it proves anything else is another question altogether. I’d say the main thing it proves is that the disaster movie is no better than it was back in its heyday. The truth is that we already were in the midst of a disaster movie renaissance — only today’s disasters are typically generated by folks in spandex or giant robots duking it out. I suppose you could call those unnatural disasters, while San Andreas returns us to the days of the natural disaster. In practice, there’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between the two — and it’s actually debatable whether any movie with someone as pumped up as The Rock can truly be called natural.




All in all, it’s an expensive-looking movie in which Los Angeles and San Francisco (and presumably all points in between) are destroyed by a series of earthquakes. Thousands, maybe millions, of people perish, billions of dollars in property damage — not to mention cultural destruction — are racked up, and it’s all in the service of bringing the estranged Mr. and Mrs. The Rock back together. After all, there’s no kind of bonding experience to equal massive destruction and a frenzied journey through it all to save your imperiled daughter — and her manufactured-for-the-occasion boyfriend and his cute-as-a-button, smarter-than-him little brother. (How a dog was left out of this mix, I do not know. Maybe someone thought it would make the whole thing unbelievable.) Before tut-tutting over this cavalier treatment of humanity as extreme marriage counseling, just remember Spielberg destroyed a great chunk of the world to fix things for Tom Cruise and his estranged family in War of the Worlds (2005). Well, after all, one of the earliest depictions of the real San Francisco earthquake — Old San Francisco (1927) — suggested it was the result of God protecting Dolores Costello’s virtue from the lecherous intentions of Warner Oland.


san andreas


Of course, no one is going to a movie like this for anything like intellectual stimulation, or even marginal realism. It seems a disturbing thing to consider, but audiences go to this sort of thing for the joy of watching mass destruction — as only CGI can render it. In this regard, San Andreas can be said to be on par with Roland Emmerich at his … er … best. The effects are generally excellent — though the minute the film personalizes the destruction by including the human element, the composites are pure 1963. Fortunately, little is actually personalized. There’s one sympathetic death and one unsympathetic “deserved” demise. Everything else is kept safely at arm’s length — unless we’re talking about the main characters, who aren’t likely to be handing in their dinner pails (they can drive a speedboat through a tidal wave). This assures us a guilt-free glut of catastrophes of escalating preposterousness.




Characterization is largely nonexistent (because it’s unnecessary), perfunctory (Paul Giamatti’s egghead seismologist, who mostly just says brainy-sounding things) or badly sketched in. In this last capacity, we have Ioan Gruffudd as Carla Gugino’s new billionaire boyfriend (a stark change from Dwayne Johnson). I guess he’s evil. Certainly the film treats him that way — even expending its grace PG-13 F-word on him. Yet, I was never sure if he was a sniveling coward who deliberately abandoned the leads’ daughter (Alexandra Daddario), or if he was dazed by it all, or if he was upset because he lost one of his shoes and had to hobble through the rest of the movie with one shoe and one sock. It hardly matters. Seriously critiquing a movie like this is impossible, impractical and useless. If you can get worked up about seeing landmarks various and sundry being destroyed again, it won’t matter — though you may reasonably wonder about the flag-waving (literally) “We will rebuild” message. Mightn’t it be wiser to rebuild somewhere else? Rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout and brief strong language.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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12 thoughts on “San Andreas

  1. luluthebeast

    I liked it! Of course, this is probably due to growing up on Japanese movies and all the earthquakes therein. Earthquakes are great, they make things bounce all over the place. And I think they were going for cheesy humor, I can’t imagine they would think that anyone would take this seriously.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    or if he was upset because he lost one of his shoes and had to hobble through the rest of the movie with one shoe and one sock.

    Direct homage to The Darjeeling Limited.

  3. T.rex

    I’m sure I’ll see this down the road, it looks fun. Movies like this (Armagedon, Deep Impact, Earthquake,etc) are more like rides. We go once, have fun, and forget about it. We have reached a point, thanks to comic movies and those insultingly bad robot movies, where falling skyscrapers have become boring. I saw Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy in “San Francisco” recently, that was a good story inside a disaster movie. It had great effects for 1936.

    • Ken Hanke

      Do you know how San Francisco was supposedly pitched? “Jeanette MacDonald is a whore, Clark Gable is her pimp, Spencer Tracy is a priest — and they all get caught up in the fucking San Francisco earthquake.”

        • Ken Hanke

          That’s the story anyway. There was a guy on the payroll at MGM whose function was to come up with movie ideas in the simplest possible terms.

          • T.rex

            I forget that we (movie fans) look back at classic Hollywood with Rose Colored glasses. It was just as shallow then as it is now, but I still love it.

          • Ken Hanke

            It’s especially shallow when we’re talking MGM.

  4. Pat D

    Oh, my. The visuals were well done. I just have one question. Is there anything the Rock can’t do?
    *****Spoiler Alert****
    Helicopter rescue pilot
    Airplane pilot.
    Boat Captain.
    Seal with the lung capacity of a dolphin.
    Daughter Diviner.
    Construction Worker? “What do we do now?” ………….Rock “We rebuild.”

    I expected him to have a hammer in his hand when he said that.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      Is there anything the Rock can’t do?

      Dramatic acting.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          He’s excellent in Pain & Gain, so I felt the qualifier was necessary.

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