It's sure been a rough year for Hollywood. First there was the stinging Sony hacking scandal. And now we have the humbling image of the Hollywood letters themselves toppling to the ground, as most of California is pulverized by an earthquake — make that earthquakes, plural — in "San Andreas."
If those letters toppling sounds like a pretty obvious image, well, duh. Everything in "San Andreas," which stars Dwayne Johnson and his amazing musculature as a powerful-yet-sweet rescue pilot, is obvious, over-the-top, and occasionally laugh-out-loud cheesy.
But really, you weren't expecting Ingmar Bergman, were you? Summer's upon us, and you could do worse than watch the undeniably appealing Johnson try to save the day while uttering the silliest dialogue imaginable. Plus, if you live far from the West Coast, there's the juicy schadenfreude factor — though we can count on the inevitable sequel ("San Andreas 2: Eastward," perhaps?) to fix that.
The movie, directed by Brad Peyton, declares itself proudly from the start. We begin as a winsome blonde lass drives her car off the road and finds herself dangling on a cliff.
Ray Gaines of the LAFD to the rescue. With an easy, calm smile, Ray (Johnson) finds a way to total his helicopter yet scoop the lass to freedom.
But we soon learn that there was one major failed rescue in Ray's life that haunts him every day. In fact, it destroyed his marriage to Emma (Carla Gugino), who, as we meet her, is about to move in with her new fiancé, a smarmy real estate developer named Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd, in a truly thankless role).
Meanwhile, Emma and Ray's daughter, 19-year-old Blake (Alexandra Daddario), hitches a ride to San Francisco with her mom's beau and asks why he never had children. Gazing at a plan for his latest skyscraper, he says: "I guess I never had kids because I was too busy raising these." And that, dear reader, is what we mean by cheesy writing.
But then calamity strikes. And we do mean calamity. Anything this movie can do once, it does twice, no, many more times. And so, just for example, twin earthquakes begin pummeling both Los Angeles, where Emma is, and San Francisco, where Blake is, almost simultaneously.
This all a huge shock (pardon the pun) to everyone except one man: a geologist at Cal Tech, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), who predicts much of the mayhem, but can't get anyone to listen. Giamatti brings all his nervous energy, but can't do much to liven up lines like: "This is NOT good." He's accompanied in many scenes by Archie Panjabi as a TV reporter who, if we're not mistaken, doesn't remove her stilettoes once, even when taking cover from the Big One.
But back to Ray, because, while this movie is prepared to kill off thousands of people in seconds, it cares deeply, as does Ray, about those close to Ray. In fact, it's better not to wonder why this professional rescue pilot is spending the entire film saving his family. Wipe that distracting thought from your brain!
Once Ray has saved Emma from a crumbling rooftop in LA, it's up to San Francisco, home of the famed Golden Gate Bridge — er, make that former Golden Gate Bridge. It's time to save Blake, who's at least lucky enough to have hooked up with a shy-sexy-sweet British guy, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his annoying little brother (Art Parkinson.) This rescue mission includes a tandem parachute jump into a baseball diamond. "It's been a while since I got you to second base," Ray says to his wife. Yes, he really says that.
But wait: we forgot the tsunami! Well, it's that kind of movie, where so much happens that you can forget the tsunami part.
But remember, you weren't expecting Bergman, right? So roll with it.
"San Andreas," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America "for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language. " Running time: 114 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.