There’s really only one reason to see San Andreas and it ain’t to watch The Rock act outside of his comfort zone. If you really wanted to watch Dwayne Johnson push himself as an actor, I highly recommend checking out Southland Tales or Pain & Gain. If you want to watch buildings fall over and crush countless nameless people while The Rock just happens to be there, San Andreas is the movie for you. The Rock is in full Hercules mode here, just sort-of coasting on his natural charisma as a mediocre film crumbles around him. San Andreas may not be the best possible Johnson vehicle, but it does have something Hercules was missing: incredible visual spectacle. As soon as San Andreas leaves the theaters it’s going to be a forgotten by-the-90s-numbers natural disaster pic, but as long as it’s huge & loud on the silver screen it’s got an impressive 3D spectacle to it that I found myself genuinely wowed by when I wasn’t chuckling at the clichéd dialogue that broke it up (like the earthquakes that break the movie’s California coast into pieces).
Since it’s unlikely that you’ll enjoy San Andreas for its storytelling prowess or emotional resonance, I guess I’ll detail what it has going for it in camp value. First of all, its aping of 90s disaster pics like Daylight & Volcano is so accurate that the whole endeavor feels ludicrously old-fashioned. In a lot of ways, it’s only a half-step up from the corny script of last year’s horrendous Left Behind, which is really saying something. Unlike Left Behind, however, San Andreas is consistently dangerous-feeling from the get-go, almost to the point of sadism. Buildings are ripped in half, people wander around bleeding in a daze, floods & fires complicate the rescue missions, etc. San Andreas knows it has little more to offer than sheer spectacle, so it pushes how much constant carnage it can get away with without devolving into a complete cartoon, something it just barely gets away with. As for traces of camp in The Rock’s performance, he does have a pretty great one-liner when he expertly parachutes onto a baseball field with his estranged wife (“It’s been a while since I’ve gotten you to second base”) and it’s pretty amusing how quickly & without inner conflict he abandons his post as a helicopter-rescue pilot to focus on retrieving his own wife & daughter as millions of other earthquake victims suffer. Other than that & a few amusing scenes in which a cowardly business dude pushes people into immediate peril to save his own ass, the movie doesn’t offer much else camp-wise outside the impressive 3D spectacle of a city collapsing.
With a larger budget, San Andreas could have looked even further back than its 90s-disaster-movie roots and assembled one of those sprawling casts from the days of Big Studio disaster films like Towering Inferno & Earthquake. I’m not saying that they should’ve recast The Rock’s helicopter pilot or Paul Giamatti’s befuddled scientist. It’s more that they felt like a small part of an absent larger whole. If San Andreas were a near-three hour epic overstuffed with every Hollywood star imaginable, but with the same level of impressive special effects it could’ve been something really special. As is, it’s going to lose its significance as soon as it hits VOD & home video, so I suggest seeing it in the theater while you can if you have any interest in it at all.