San Andreas - Cinema Review

'If it wasn't so staid in much of its execution, this could almost be a parody of the likes of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow'.

So rigidly does director Brad Peyton stick to the tried-and-tested formula of modern entries into the disaster genre throughout San Andreas that, if it wasn't so staid in much of its execution, this could almost be a parody of the likes of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Watching at times feels like a challenge to see how many clich├ęd outcomes you can predict based on Peyton's hackneyed set up.

A central character who is one half of a separated couple? That'd be Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), San Francisco fireman who specialises in air rescue. A new love interest on the scene of questionable moral character? Step forward Ioan Gruffud's Daniel, who initially seems to go against this stock stereotype, before being thrown back into it full force by Peyton to the point of caricature. Female characters whose main purpose is to be rescued by the men? Check. Scientists who make a breakthrough just too late to save the day? Check. The long and predictable list goes on.

These elements might not be so problematic if they were delivered with any hint of originality, but Peyton never even comes close to straying outside the genre's comfort zone. Even worse is the film's narrative, which starts by piling one derivative device onto another before becoming split between two equally unfocused plots. There's the team of Ray's daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) alongside cartoon English brothers Ben (Hugo Johnston-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson) wandering around an earthquake-torn San Francisco; and Ray - reunited with his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) - searching for Blake, which largely involves him expertly commandeering several types of transport. Whilst one of these stories may have a pursued goal, neither ever feels as if its going anywhere meaningful.

There are two factors that keep San Andreas afloat. The first is the effects-driven destruction sequences, which are impressive throughout. An early scene based at the Hoover Dam kicks things off well, giving a taste of what's to come later; whilst a later sequence based around a tsunami preparing to engulf California provides some genuine thrills and even a few sparks of invention, making it arguably the best Peyton's film has to offer.

The other saving grace is a handful of good casting decisions. Paul Giamatti is an excellent choice for earthquake chasing scientist Dr. Lawrence Hayes, bringing just the right balance of authentic intelligence and exaggerated apocalyptic-prophesying to the character. The other smart choice here is in fact Johnson as the lead, with the former pro-wrestler delivering the necessary level of over-the-top conviction and believable action-man credentials to help carry the film through its lowest points. It's not enough to save San Andreas from being a largely forgettable by-the-numbers disaster movie, but it does mean there are enough moments of respite to rescue Peyton's film from being truly terrible.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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