Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is an ace chopper pilot for the LAFD, and we meet him when he squeezes his bird down the side of a mountain overhang and – of course – has to strap on the harness to save his buddy and the driver of the SUV that hangs by a thread….
It’s an impressive start to what’s clearly going to be an action/adventure/thriller and, like many of the best disaster movies, will see Los Angeles and San Francisco come under the hammer – in this case not one but two massive earthquakes, and then a tsunami for good measure.
The destruction starts at the Hoover Dam in Nevada though, and right there is earthquake expert Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), whose worst fears are confirmed: there are hotspots aplenty and the San Andreas fault is ready to snap; he races onto live TV and sends out a warning.
But snap it does. In LA, Ray’s almost-degree-nisi wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is having lunch at a high-storey hotel when the quake hits. Destruction follows, but luckily Ray is in the air and, with some fancy flying and some athletics from Emma, he manages to save her from the roof.
In San Francisco, their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) has just said goodbye to her new friends – stuttering Brit Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his cheeky/irritating little bruv Ollie (County Donegal-born actor Art Parkinson) – when Frisco gets flattened, and she’s trapped in car in an underground car park.
Smitten Ben and plucky Ollie go to help, and now the story splits: this trio are trying to head for higher ground, while Ray and Emma have decided to fly tout de suite to save their daughter – but there are many, many obstacles to overcome before they’ll even get close….
Not known for their scientific accuracy, this disaster movie certainly doesn’t disappoint in that area – though of course what we’re there to see is the (movie) world of these California landmarks falling about our ears (even in 3D).
Of course, there are many, many moments when logic, reason and rationality just leave the building (and “dramatic” moments that just get a laugh). We don’t see much blood, lost limbs or crushed people either, and as for “The Rock”, he has a Superman-like ability to fly a plane, a helicopter, to skydive, to dive underwater, to steer a speedboat – all without a scratch. In fact our family and their new British friends get barely a scratch despite enduring unimaginably dangerous circumstances.
It’s what we expect though, and while Johnson and Daddario try their best with the halting, awkward, cheesy moments – and nothing’s ever said about Gaines taking the LAFD helicopter and flying it away from all the L.A. citizens he is paid and legally avowed to help save – it can’t be argued that there are plenty of “oh my god” moments here. What did you expect?
Review by JAMES BARTLETT