In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey across the state in order to rescue his estranged daughter.
You may not be familiar with the name Irwin Allen but you might recognize some of his movies: “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno,” “The Swarm” and “When Time Ran Out.” He was the master of disaster back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and produced some of the most spectacular catastrophic movies ever put on film. He was also a marketing genius as each of his films starred some of the biggest movie stars at the time; Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Robert Wagner, Ernest Borgnine, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain and Gene Hackman to name but a few. To this day, “The Towering Inferno” is still considered, by many, to be one of the most acclaimed action/adventure movies ever made. One of my personal favorites, although it bombed at the box office and signaled the end of Mr. Allen’s winning streak and career, was “When Time Ran Out,” the story of a sleeping volcano on a tropical island paradise which decides it doesn’t want to lay dormant any longer.
With “San Andreas,” director Brad Peyton follows in Mr. Allen’s footsteps and delivers a movie that is visually stunning and filled with astonishing set-pieces unlike anything you have ever seen before. Granted, “2012” and “The Day After Tomorrow” were both full of magnificent special effects but technology has come so far since then that you will literally find it almost impossible, while watching this film, to try and separate the real life stunts from the CGI effects and in a movie of this magnitude (no pun intended), that is absolutely mandatory. The story is conventionally formulaic and that’s not a criticism, for these kinds of movies, we don’t expect layered narratives, filled with Oscar-worthy performances, we go to these films to watch stuff blow up and to see the White house, the Golden Gate Bridge and any other famous landmark, meet its demise. Here, Dwayne Johnson plays Ray, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot.
When his daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario), flies up to San Francisco with her mom’s wealthy boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) for a volleyball game, the San Andreas fault decides to release some pressure and causes one of the biggest recorded earthquakes in American history. Trapped in the basement of a skyscraper, she manages to call Ray, just in time to tell him exactly where she is and he decides to make his way up there to rescue her. While in transit, he manages to save his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) from a collapsing building in downtown Los Angeles and together they must put their differences aside and concentrate on rescuing their daughter. Meanwhile, Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, warns the U.S. that the earthquake they just experienced, will pale in comparison for what’s to come.
The film moves from Los Angeles as we follow Ray and Emma’s journey up the San Andreas fault until they arrive in an obliterated San Francisco. With Blake having been rescued by two English guys on vacation, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson), Ray and Emma must figure out a course of action that will help them find their daughter before the big earthquake hits. I cannot clarify enough, just how astonishing the special effects are. One scene in particular, which takes place at the Hoover Dam in Nevada, is so realistic, I couldn’t differentiate between the CGI effects and the practical ones, that’s how convincing they are and when a movie can astound you like that, then you know you’re in for a good time. If mass destruction of buildings, landmarks and everything else in between is your thing, then sit back and enjoy one of the best summer movies in years.
In theaters May 29th
For more info on James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com