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San Andreas

Forget plot or dialogue: This is an awesome spectacle of vicarious destruction

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In Brad Peyton's San Andreas, a giant earthquake tears apart California, prompting Los Angeles Fire rescue-helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) to collect his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and head to San Francisco to rescue his daughter (Alexandra Daddario). Also, maybe the couple can talk through the divorce in between aftershocks.

But who came for the plot? San Andreas is spectacle of vicarious destruction, and as these things go, is pretty awesome. We get Landmark Tragedy (Hoover Dam, Hollywood sign, Golden Gate Bridge) and the wholesale destruction of America's two great Western cities, plus all the cow towns in between. (Look closely during the final scene and note that San Francisco is now an island.) There is also alarming stuff we can relate to, like getting trapped in an underground garage, driving on a road that suddenly drops off into a huge crack, having an office cubicle fill up with water, or getting stuck babysitting English tourists when you're busy surviving a 9.6 shaker.

Can this marriage be saved? Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino ride out the Big One.
  • Can this marriage be saved? Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino ride out the Big One.

Leave your science cap at home because there's no place for it: You will see a man outrun an earthquake and a tiny boat safely crest a bazillion-foot wave. Standing in for both real and fake science is Paul Giamatti as a Cal Tech seismologist who, seconds before the big quake, discovers a way to predict big quakes. (The advance warning still boils down to: "Drop, cover and hold on.")

The epic scale of death is mostly ignored — the collapse of Hoover Dam gets kind of a shrug, as if there's nothing downstream from 10,000,000 acre-feet of rushing water — but we get a couple of pointed fatalities. The movie's villain — besides whatever problem Mother Nature has with California — is a self-important architect (Ioan Gruffudd), who is exterminated in a particularly amusing and low-rent fashion. There's also a villainess, played by Kylie Minogue, who has two bitchy lines before literally dropping off the face of the earth.

On one side of the giant earth crack, Ray is the greatest rescue dude ever — he stops at nothing to save his family, and the sturdy, likable Johnson sells every ridiculous physical feat. (This Rock don't crack!) On the other hand, he's a LAFD employee who not only doesn't report to work on the Worst Day Ever, but takes a much-needed helicopter for personal use! In the end, he's standing by the flag-draped busted Golden Gate Bridge saying, "Now, we rebuild," and I'm like, "Yeah, dude, might as well, because you are awesome and stuff, but also so fired."

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