** out of ****
How does that famous quote go? “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.” Hollywood has never demonstrated much of a grasp on this paradox of human psychology, which is partly why San Andreas proves unable to muster more than a modest scribble on the emotional seismograph.
The fictional (albeit not totally impossible) earthquake, on the other hand, leaves a scribble big enough that Caltech professor Lawrence Hayes broadcasts a warning to the entire country (“you will feel it on the East coast.”). Hayes, whose performance by Paul Giamatti is proof that straight-faced beats campy any day of the week, has just discovered a foolproof way to predict earthquakes, and not a moment too soon. The long-overdue San Andreas Fault tears Southern California from the mainland like a page from a book.
The real grunt work is done by Ray (Dwayne Johnson), and includes operating just about every conceivable means of transportation – air, land and sea – in an effort to rescue his family. Johnson’s a worthy leading man who turns his limitations into strengths, but even he would likely have appreciated a little more creative hero-speak than “Just doing my job, ma’am,” and the triumphant classic “Not today.”
The most surprising thing about San Andreas is that, artistry aside, it still entertains as well as it does. Clocking in under two hours, it’s lean enough that we stay along for the ride, and are even rewarded with a few moments of well-earned nail-biting to boot. Special effects are, of course, top of the line, but I still felt disturbingly numb to the destruction. There are only so many panicked-crowd scenes I can watch before I start to channel my inner statistician.