san-andreas-dwayne-johnson-posterBy Kyle G. King. For those who had the privilege of growing up in the ’90s with tacky parents in the Sunshine State, childhood probably included a trip to Orlando’s Universal Studios Florida. After getting slimed at Nickelodeon Studios and not completely understanding who Alfred Hitchcock was, children who’d rather be on the Jaws ride got ushered onto a train car designed to look like the New York City subway only to be slightly engaged by the spewing water, fire, and debris show entitled “Earthquake: The Big One” (based on the 1974 epic starring Charlton Heston). It was a tumultuous and somehow tepid experience that left you eager to see anything else, which is funny; that’s precisely the feeling I had when I left Dwayne Johnson’s $110 million summer blockbuster — also about earthquakes and spewing debris — San Andreas.

The single-celled Hollywood disaster movies of the twenty-first century can hardly be accused of nurturing an engrossing plot, and San Andreas reliably offers next to none within its 114 minute running time. While Hollywood has certainly proven it’s capable of producing disaster movies that can resonate beyond a trite formula, San Andreas lacks any thematic resonance that might have allowed it to faintly echo other disaster-porn (like, say, the earnest storytelling of Deep Impact, the familial bonding of The Impossible, or even the hair-brained fun of Armageddon). Instead: buildings fall, it looks cool, Dwayne Johnson works out and he looks pretty cool, throw in some dashing one-liners to get you out of a scene and into the next; cut, print, that’s a wrap and hey, quick, somebody greenlight the sequel while nobody’s looking.

The People’s Champion plays Ray Gaines, a rescue worker who is capable of ripping the doors off of cars and can expertly drive literally every mode of transportation there ever was. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s fortunate enough to be piloting a rescue helicopter when a 9.6 earthquake hits his home state of California, sending massive tremors from Los Angeles up the San Andreas fault right to San Francisco. Ray sidesteps his assigned mission and essentially steals the helicopter (which he is flying alone; I don’t think that’s standard procedure) all for the heroic efforts of rescuing his estranged but not yet officially divorced wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), and their college aged daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario, flashing the startling eyes of an anime character).

fe9d17fc_SA-17009r.xxxlarge_2xBlake, after being abandoned by her father-in-law-to-be Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd), wanders a deteriorating San Francisco wasteland with an Englishman she just gave her phone number to (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his thirteen year-old sassy Brit of a brother (Art Parkinson). The trio brave the elements (and thwart mother nature’s attempts to murder them) as they make their way towards higher ground to reunite with Blake’s parents so they can all not die together or something. Paul Giamatti provides San Andreas with its most endearing performance as the token scientist who explains everything to the American television public — the majority of whom probably don’t give a damn about seismology anyway, what with all the buildings falling on their heads.

If you’ve seen the trailer (and any action movie at all in the past thirty years), there are zero surprises in store for you. But if the trailer did somehow pull you to the theater, you’ll get exactly what you came for: epic scenes of catastrophic proportions. There is enough epic visuals spanning throughout the film to dazzle you with as the top-notch special effects tear it all into rubble. What may catch you off guard is the spirited performance of professional wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne Johnson. As the muscle-bound father we all wish we had, Johnson gets saddled with plenty of tragic backstory and eye-rolling action one-liners, but he’s been known to endure worse. He coats his cursed performance with far more grace and dignity than a film like this would otherwise deserve.