- - Thursday, May 28, 2015

It is hard to imagine what anyone thought the appeal of a movie like “San Andreas” would be.

Judging by the final product, it must have been something along the lines of: Come! Spend a relaxing evening watching as hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of West Coast resident die in a series of horrific natural disasters! Landmarks will be destroyed! Buildings will crumble! Cities will flood!

And all the while, thousands upon thousands of people will fall, or be crushed, or be drowned, screaming and flailing and burning as the movie’s cruel gods fling them to their deaths. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Trust me, it isn’t.

“San Andreas” is not only a disaster of a disaster movie — a dreary, dull, formulaic and often willfully stupid exercise in pointless destructive spectacle — it’s a callous and careless attempt to entertain viewers with simulated mass death, just because it looks cool.

Honestly, though, it doesn’t even look that cool. The movie’s big destruction sequences, which include the destruction of the Hoover Dam and the flooding of the Bay Area’s burned and broken urban carcass by a poorly rendered tidal wave, are uniformly loud and rote, with middling effects work that at times looks vaguely like it was created on an Xbox.

Director Brad Peyton shoots and stages the big set pieces with just enough indifference to make them unexciting, and just enough realism to make them vaguely horrific.

It is a movie that inadvertently but consistently draws attention to the massive horrors that are the foundation of both its spectacle and its story — in large part because there is nothing else worth remotely paying attention to.

Characters go missing for long chunks of the story, and almost none of them have anything interesting to do. Ioan Gruffudd’s rich architect quickly proves himself to be exactly the coward his private jet and fancy blue blazer indicate him to be when he leaves another character to die during the first act. After that, he disappears except for a few brief, pointless scenes.

Following a brief adventure to the Hoover Dam that ends in mass death and destruction, Paul Giamatti’s earthquake scientist appears only to provide expository foreshadowing: He explains the disasters to come. Then the disasters come. Then lots more people die. It’s just as entertaining as it sounds.

Caught in the midst of all the dying is a family: Rescue pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock); his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino); and their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), who spends much of the movie tromping around with good-natured brothers Ben and Ollie (Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson).

Mr. Johnson, usually a game and energizing presence, is saddled with lines that veer between boring and insipid. Even his digitally enhanced stunts are uninspiring. The most impressive thing about Mr. Johnson’s performance is that he manages to deliver the stilted and unintentionally hilarious dialogue — supplied by veteran TV scribe Carlton Cuse — with a straight face.

The story, meanwhile, exhibits a strangely skewed sense of justice: When Ray finds himself in need of a vehicle, he decides to steal a car — so of course the car he picks is not only being used by a looter to steal large flat-panel televisions (which is obviously what you’d want to hoard in the event of a civilization-wrecking earthquake), it’s one that already has been stolen, and thus is free of any karmic burden.

At the same time, the movie seems indifferent, at best, to the vast casualties inflicted all around Ray. Indeed, Ray’s heroic quest to rescue his family is somehow supposed to provide sufficient uplift to balance out its mass death and destruction.

It is a movie that attempts, rather badly, to negate its careless macro-cruelty with cheap micro-heroism. The combination of shoddy workmanship and moral disregard makes for a movie that is not just horrible, but horrifying.


TITLE: “San Andreas”

CREDITS: Directed by Brad Peyton; written by Carlton Cuse

RATING: PG-13 for action, language, vast and meaningless loss of life

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

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