It’s a sunny day in California when a seismologist at Cal Tech, Lawrence, Paul Giamatti, suddenly figures out how to accurately predict earthquakes. The only problem is a huge earthquake is actually coming along the San Andreas Fault, ripping through Los Angeles to San Francisco. Juxtaposed to this, Ray, Dwayne Johnson, who works at Rescue and Fire is dealing with a divorce, and his relationship with his daughter, Blake, Alexandra Daddario. Blake is going to college and his soon to be ex-wife Emma, Carla Gugino, informs him that her new boyfriend is moving in with her.
Then of course the earth starts to shake. All of them are separated and so Ray sets out in his helicopter to find Blake and Emma. Will he be able to save them? And even if he does, how catastrophic will the earthquake be? Lawrence tells us in the beginning that the San Andreas has not erupted in one hundred and fifty years and that it’s fifty years overdue. However, he also adds that the earthquake will be a 9.1 and will be so strong that people on the East Coast will feel it.
As disaster films go, this one is well done. The scenes of the Hoover Dam cracking were actual footage from an earthquake in Queensland Australia in 2011. Yet, there are so many explosions, glass flying everywhere, that at one point, you feel as if there will be nothing left standing. Buildings fall like large dominoes one after another, and even AT&T Park is not safe. (Was this an homage to the Loma Prieta Quake which hit during game three of the World Series?)
There are some subplots in this, which are nicely woven in but, become extremely cliché in both dialogue and plot. It is sad when you can accurately predict exactly the lines that a character will say, even before they are out of their mouths. This hampers the fact that the actors themselves have some nice quiet moments (amidst the mayhem) but due to the staid quality of both the story and script, we know what will happen and even what the reactions of the other actors will be.
One bit of clarification should be added here. According to seismologists at USGS, Dr. Lucy Jones, the idea that the earth could open up like depicted in the film is ridiculous. She says that the San Andreas Fault is only ten miles deep and 800 miles long, and further that if the earth opened up as shown in the film, then the two sides of the fault would not be able to rub together and there would in fact be no earthquake at all. Therefore idea that such a fissure could occur is absurd.
The ridiculousness though is pervasive in this film. Only the bad guys die, and the heroes, (even when it is not actually feasible) live. We know life will go on, as Ray says at the end, when asked what they will do now, his answer is: “rebuild”. As a parable on being earthquake prepared this is not bad. It does show that one should duck under a sturdy desk and hold on till the shaking subsides. Also, it is nice to see that they emphasize using landlines since cell phones would not work, and locating clean water.
Blake, Ray’s daughter since she has been brought up by someone who works in the Safety and Rescue field, knows where supplies are and how to use them. It is nice to see a female character who is not only smart, but resourceful as well.
The pacing of the film is pretty good, however, the first scene in which they rescue a woman trapped in her car, goes on way too long. After that though, they get to the main storyline and it does not slow down till the last frame.
As a story though that purports to depict what could happen, this is okay, but not great. It leans too heavily on explosions, unbelievable outcomes, and a plot that is (even though the actors give it their best) all too often predictable and staid.