SAN ANDREAS (PG13)
114 minutes/Opens tomorrow / 3/5
The story: Rescue pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is separated from wife Emma (Carla Gugino), who has a new boyfriend, the millionaire Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). While she is in Los Angeles, the San Andreas fault line starts shaking, as predicted by scientist Hayes (Paul Giamatti). Ray must criss-cross California, first to help Emma, and then to San Francisco to rescue daughter Blake (Alexdandra Daddario).
Homogenised and simplified for all-ages global consumption, this contains everything people expect of a disaster flick, and a lot less, just in case someone from Ulan Bataar does not get a particular reference.
The reduction of everything to generic mush, however, does not stifle the charismatic presence of Dwayne Johnson, in a role that could be the most challenging of his career.
As buildings topple and 200m-high waves crash into the city, the wrestler-turned-actor goes beyond acting tough; he has to show sadness and vulnerability when he realises that someone he loves might die.
In that scene, the massive man, who made his debut as action hero, proves his range. The scene won't quite clinch him an Oscar, but it does remind viewers why, out of the pack of athletes- turned-actors, he has far more going for him than biceps.
But in all other respects, this work strives for levels of bombast that would do Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 1996; The Day After Tomorrow, 2004) proud.
The earthquake that strikes California is not just any ordinary groundshaker; it is a "seismic swarm" that devastates a vast swathe from Los Angeles to San Francisco and beyond.
The protagonists, the Gaines family, are hit with one calamity after another - collapsing buildings and bridges, yawning chasms and, in the final scene, a tsunami that hurls ocean liners into the downtown San Francisco. Everything that nature can throw at them, except maybe an active volcano and a sharknado, is up on the screen.
At least the visuals are good.
The wide shots of falling skyscrapers are not new, but director Brad Peyton in a few scenes strives for a pedestrian-level, first-person viewpoint as characters dodge objects raining down or the ground falling away, giving the action a video-game perspective.
Supporting characters are the standard lot. Giamatti, as the scientist, is the nerd who sees it all coming and acts as the plot device that explains the geophysical action, while warning the audience of what is coming in the next scene. Serena (Archie Panjabi), the newscaster shadowing the scientist, is the other plot exposition device.
The end result might be a melange of scenes taken from other films, but in a summer season groaning with sci-fi and superhero sequels, this survival epic must be given credit for striking out on its own.