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San Andreas (3D) and (2D)


Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Kylie Minogue, Will Yun Lee

Director: Brad Peyton

Once upon a time in Hollywood, disaster movies often tended to be packed with stars.

Nowadays, however, special effects are possibly the most important box-office stars and so the heyday of star-driven disaster movies such as The Towering Inferno and the ‘Airport’ epics may well have passed.

Which may well account for the casting here of wrestler-turned-action-movie star Dwayne Johnson.

Action, not acting, is essentially what his role as the Los Angeles Fire Department search and rescue helicopter pilot-turned-family-saviour demands and, in that respect, he fits the part perfectly.

Director Brad Payton sensibly establishes Johnson’s action hero status right from the start, as the star rescues a woman from her crashed car in a gulley in the San Fernando Valley.

In the movies’ heyday, screen scientists would usually smoke a pipe (to indicate intellectual superiority) and some times sport jackets with leather elbow patches.

Nowadays, of course, tobacco in films is verboten (no trace of then endemic smoking was visible, despite the film being set in 1950s Los Angeles, which made L.A. Confidential much less convincing as a period piece).

So Paul Giamatti wears glasses to prove hi intellectual superiority and is well cast as the token scientist who accurately predicts the disastrous Force 9 earthquake triggered off by the San Andreas Fault, which shatters California, starting with the destruction of the Hoover Dam and moving on to bringing down Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Stunning special effects that include scarily credible crumbling buildings, a warship that ends up beached high up in a San Francisco skyscraper and a tsunami that destroys the Golden Gate Bridge and usefully serves to show Johnson’s preternatural skill as the captain of a small boat, are the film’s genuine raison d’etre and are worth the price of admission for moviegoers seeking thrills and an effective adrenaline rush.

Efficient enough human drama and suspense derive from Johnson’s eminently heroic efforts in chopper, plane, car and boat in the company of estranged wife Carla Gugino (who has to make a life-saving tandem parachute jump clutched by Dwayne) to rescue their only daughter while all around them California continues to crumble in spectacular style.

Other actors who create breaks in the spectacle sequences apart include Ioan Gruffudd and Archie Panjabi, while Peyton keeps the pace fast and the action coming; but the real stars are the people, led by VFX supervisor Colin Strause, who were responsible for movie magic.

(The film was partly shot in Australia which probably accounts for Kylie Minogue being credited: I must have missed her in the slew of visual and visceral thrills. Fortunately, I can live with that).

Alan Frank

USA 2015. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour.
114 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 29 May 2015