Published Oct 13, 2015Before a series of earthquakes decimate every building and landmark along the titular San Andreas Fault, while Caltech seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) gives a lecture on significant earthquakes, a student puts up her hand and asks, "Professor, do you think something like that could happen here?" Dr. Hayes, who is standing in front of three blackboards filled with algebraic equations that have nothing to do with seismology, pipes up about tectonic plates, noting that, indeed, something like that could happen in California. And there's a dramatic pause.
Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), a Los Angeles Fire Department Air Rescue helicopter pilot is going through a divorce from wife Emma (Carla Gugino). He's also planning a trip to San Francisco with his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), but once the earthquake hits, he's called into work, leaving Blake to go on the trip with her mom's new sleazebag boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). We, as the audience, start to see why Emma is leaving Ray: He's married to his job.
Once an earthquake decimates the hotel where Emma is having lunch with Daniel's sister (Kylie Minogue) and Ray rescues her (and only her, out of the hundred or so people eating lunch at the same restaurant), Emma gives him a knowing and loving glance. In this moment, she understands the importance of his work, and the pair decides to fly off to San Francisco to save their daughter who, based on their lack of communication with her, could very well be perfectly fine unlike the thousands of injured people around them that might be able to use a helicopter air lift to safety.
The derivative nature of this premise is not only patronizing but laughably predictable, meaning that viewers can literally miss large chunks of San Andreas without it hindering the overall experience of watching its endless onslaught of mediocre visual effects. We know that Dr. Hayes — who conveniently has hackers amidst his class of geology students and who posts earthquake safety tips under desks where no one would ever logically see them — will help identify disaster before it happens and we know that our central family will eventually be reunited. We know this because, sadly, this was also the basic plot of Dante's Peak, Volcano, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and, really, every other natural disaster movie.
While this laziness likely stems from marketing research that suggests people going to see a movie like this legitimately don't give a shit about plot and simply want mindless, easily digested (and culturally reassuring) fluff, it's pathetic that there isn't a single diversion from the existing template. Considering the vast lexicon of human experience available to screenwriters, it's odd that this well-worn trope is the only avenue explored within this genre. Really, at the end of it all, the only thing subversive about this painfully clichéd, vapid exercise in consumer condescension is the fact that there's no heroic dog. People like dogs, especially when they outsmart humans and save babies.
The special features are as lethargic as expected on this release. It's mostly clips from the movies interspersed with the pre-recorded, highly rehearsed interview snippets the studio would have sent to entertainment programs for publicity. We learn mainly how they made the restaurant shake.