San Andreas: Whose Fault?

05/28/2015 10:27 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016

"San Andreas" is a disaster! The acting, the script, the plot line, the continuity, even the CGI . . . all disasters. The only real dramatic tension is whether the movie is a bigger threat to San Francisco and Hollywood than an actual quake.

The movie stars Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson as a rescue chopper pilot who flies across California to save his daughter from the mighty San Andreas earthquake. The subplots revolve around family fractures. Johnson is estranged from his wife. He is estranged from his daughter. Clearly he's estranged from the script, minimal as it is. In fact, he looks and sounds as if he's never seen it before.

Dour Dwayne runs, trudges, drives and flies through the film armed only with his deadly default demeanors - hyperventilating hysteria or stoic sonombularity. His expressions toggle between "what's going on here" to "this is the place I'm supposed to act scared." World Wrestling Federation must have been more fun for him than wrestling with genuine emotions. The earth moves more than Dwayne Johnson's face!

In one of the few moments of honesty in the film, Johnson apologizes: "I wanted to tell you I was sorry for how I acted." Well, I wouldn't quite call it acting, Dwayne. Still, apology accepted . . . though perhaps he wasn't apologizing for his performance in the movie?

No wonder he often looks bored - the plot covers well shaken ground. But this isn't Clark Gable and Jeanette McDonald's San Francisco. It's more an exercise in disaster porn than watching spirited characters fight back against natural disaster.

Johnson's San Andrean wife Carla Gugino and daughter Alexandra Daddario are merely plot devices. Both do an admirable job of screaming when cued and running in front of blue screens. "Race to Witch Mountain" seems to have adequately prepared Gugino whose speed is an asset. Similarly the previous work of the other cast members - Daddario in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and Dwayne Johnson in the "Fast and the Furious" series - provided ample training for earthquakes, if not for acting.

But let's be honest about this. One does not go to "San Andreas" for the acting. The base attraction is schadenfreude . . . to see America's most beautiful city reduced to rubble. Even here, the movie falls down as much as the rattled buildings.

The CGI is cheesy. Locals will laugh when they see how badly sections of town are misplaced. Probably the cardinal sin is locating the Golden Gate Bridge next to downtown. Didn't anyone connected with this film see "The Graduate?"

This obvious disdain for reality or any measure of depth rob the film of meaning or importance beyond shallow voyeurism. There is nothing to be learned from San Andreas, de rigueur safety tips notwithstanding. Big buildings collapse. People die. So what?!

The lack of truth and the inability to express the emotional consequences deprive us of feeling the magnitude of the disaster, the pain of loss, the real shock of destruction. Instead we are left inert at the picture's center where suffering should stir all manner of emotion. We are watching a lesser canvass at a local museum, a perfunctory performance piece at the park . . . a theatrical abstraction instead of the crushing disaster which will change our world.

No wonder so few people prepare for such immense tragedies. Like the movie they've seen, it doesn't seem real or possible. It is not or will not be their event.

At one point, Dwayne Johnson implores: "We need to warn people now." Clearly this is a movie that should have come with such a warning . . . both to the earthquake subject public and to those planning to attend the film. But of even more immediate use to the theater audience is the advice of Paul Giametti, an otherwise fine actor who is left to chew up whatever scenery the quake doesn't destroy. "I cannot emphasize this enough," the wide-eyed, would be expert on earthquake films Giametti implores, "You need to get out and I mean now." Those should have been the very first words of the movie with the exit doors swinging wide open. At least the cinematic disaster could have been avoided!