San Andreas is faultless summer disaster flick

Last updated on June 23rd, 2015 at 02:52 pm

Dwayne Johnson, left, as Ray, and Carla Gugino as Emma, in a scene from the action thriller, "San Andreas." (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Dwayne Johnson, left, as Ray, and Carla Gugino as Emma, in a scene from the action thriller, “San Andreas.” (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

Dwayne Johnson will likely be the number one reason most folks go see the new disaster film San Andreas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he is extraordinary in it, and turns in the best performance I’ve seen from him in a while. He leads a great cast as Chief Ray Gaines, including the always compelling Carla Cugina as his estranged wife Emma and newcomer Alexandra Daddario as his daughter Blake as the family whose drama is at the film’s core.

The visual effects are the real star of the movie. The premise of the story is an escalating series of violent shifts in the tectonic plates around the iconic San Andeas fault line running through California, most notably between San Francisco and Los Angeles, wreak havoc on those cities and presage catastrophic repercussions worldwide, while Ray and Emma try to get from LA to San Franciso to rescue Blake.

The movie opens with a really tense but cool sequence that sets up Johnson’s character L.A. helicopter rescue pilot Ray, who with nerves of steel, is dedicated to seeing a rescue mission through without giving up on the imperiled person even in the most dire of circumstances. Genre fans who have been watching Arrow on The CW will recognize rising star Colton Haynes (Roy Harper/Arenal) as Joby in the sequence. Ray’s persistence and resolve to saving lives is central to events that inform the rift that separates him from Emma.

Paul Giamotti is quietly effective as a Lawrence, a CalTech seismologist whose team has developed a system for accurately predicting earthquakes. The visual effects really kick in when the team tries out the new system at a doomed Hoover dam. Oh yeah, that signals that nothing is safe in this one! After detecting the precursors to the quake that devastates the dam, the pace picks up as quakes are prognosticated that will devastate the continent.

Did I mention that Ray and Emma are estranged? Ioan Gruffud portrays architect Daniel Riddick, Emma’s millionaire boyfriend. His latest skyscraper going up in downtown San Francisco plays a role in staging the final act where a tsunami …… oops, almost gave away some really cool stuff that you will love. Suffice it to say that the events that happen in San Fran (and LA) will take your breath away.

I proffer that this is a faultless summer flick because it presents well-executed images of massive destruction on a grand scale that are visually stunning, without being unnecessarily gory about the individual victims. That doesn’t mean there won’t be many deaths; it just means that they aren’t gratuitous and are presented in context of a consummate catastrophe.

Art Parkinson nearly steals the show as Ollie, a young Brit, who plays into the narrative along with his big brother Ben, played by Hugo Johnstone-Burt. Rated PG-13 (for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language); see it soon at your local Carmike Cinema.