‘San Andreas’ is an over-the-top cinematic spectacle

Nikki Green in San Andreas (2015)

San Andreas (2015)

Directed by Brad Peyton

7.5/10  PG-13

Don’t let the demolished Hollywood sign fool you—“San Andreas” shows that the summertime standard of big-budget Hollywood fun is still thriving. Yes, the science might be shaky. And the acting might be horrifying. But when Earth’s tectonic plates play Jenga with San Francisco and Dwayne Johnson decides to save the day, you and I both know that other stuff doesn’t matter.

Alexandra Daddario, Art Parkinson, and Hugo Johnstone-Burt in San Andreas (2015)

Cal Tech seismology professor Dr. Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) somberly turns to the camera, addressing a frightened California, and informs them that they’re about to feel the biggest earthquake in recorded history. From there, like dominos, San Francisco falls one skyscraper at a time. Blake (Alexandra Daddario), in the city with her architect stepdad Daniel (Ioan Gruffud), becomes trapped. With the help of two recent acquaintances, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), she manages to escape the collapsing building. But now, like the rest of the city, they’ll struggle to make their way to safety. Back in Los Angeles, Blake’s dad Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a helicopter pilot, and mom Emma (Carla Gugino), out to lunch with her future sister-in-law, are facing their own quakes (the San Andreas fault is almost as unstable as their recent marriage…ouch). But Ray promises to rescue Blake, come hell or high water (and he’ll deal with both), and save his crumbling family.

Carla Gugino and Dwayne Johnson in San Andreas (2015)

I imagine casting auditions sounded something like this: “Okay, now scream as you would if you saw a giant approaching tsunami in the distance.” When our stars aren’t in immediate peril, they’re duds. Thankfully for us, they’re in immediate peril nearly 90% of the time. If my heartbeat registered seismic activity, Alexandra Daddario would be a magnitude 10. In her first starring role since the “Percy Jackson” franchise, Daddario doesn’t disappoint. Dwayne Johnson is built for this role. The way he spits theatrical one-liners, you’d think he got his start in professional wrestling. Unfortunately, the family dynamic was lost on me. The story was riddled with clichés. But, with the world falling apart around them, I got over the plot’s emotional deficiencies fast. Plus, Professor Giamatti is a terrific addition. His own turn-to-the-camera lines are what movies like “San Andreas” thrive on.

Dwayne Johnson in San Andreas (2015)

From the get-go, “San Andreas” hits you with high-octane thrills. “San Andreas” is a nail-biter of a disaster epic and I’m unapologetically in love with it. At times, the absurdity of it was literally laughable. But I couldn’t believe what I found myself enjoying. I was giddy. If you want scientific accuracy, go watch National Geographic. If you want to see stunts that defy physics, go watch “San Andreas.” But it’s not a total waste when it comes to realism. Its characters show you, in many cases, exactly what to do when the earth rumbles beneath you. It’s part Roland Emmerich epic (though he wasn’t involved in any way, surprisingly), part earthquake safety PSA.

“San Andreas” is a must-see spectacle. Lower your expectations and just go along for the ride.

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