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San Andreas

Year: 2015
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Brad Peyton
Producer: Beau Flynn
Writer: Carlton Cuse
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Iona Gruffud, Paul Giamatti, Archie Punjabi

Last year's Exodus: Gods and Kings was a real old-school Hollywood epic, full of melodrama, pomp and scale – the kind of thing that used to play really well to audiences watching Gone With The Wind or Cleopatra.

It could be argued it had too much CGI, but it crammed in all kinds of drama and spectacle thanks to modern tools and techniques the likes of which Golden Era directors like Cecil B De Mille and George Cukor could only dream about.

You'll think the same thing watching San Andreas, and if the performance of Exodus is anything to go by, The Rock's latest global smash-em-up might be facing a hard time at the box office. The qualities in Exodus (and San Andreas) – from the simplistic morals to the spectacle over substance – just doesn't seem to fly with audiences nowadays.

One can only hope Dwayne's million dollar smile, billion dollar biceps and trillion dollar hero persona brings punters in, because San Andreas takes a lot of the hallmarks (and missteps) of age-old disaster movies and turns the dial up to 11.

The dialogue is riper than three-day-old fish. The performances are local amateur theatre playhouse-quality. It's full of tattered cliches from a hundred disaster movies. Ridiculous coincidences deliver the characters miraculously to the right place at the right time.

You'll be asking yourself later whether there was some narrative sleight of hand involved that saw two frightened parents drive a speedboat through a deserted, flooded city and happen to drive right past the skyscraper their daughter's trapped in (there isn't).

The orgiastic reverence for pro-Americana is amped up to Michael Bay levels. In the midst of injury, terror and mass death, the young hero and heroine stop to kiss just because they have a crush on each other. There's an annoying kid. The only thing missing is a dog in peril. The final image is of the family, arm in arm, gazing reverently and hopefully over the wreckage into the sunset, and it's so familiar and corny you'll find yourself saying 'now... we rebuild' at the same time Dwayne does.

That's the bad news. The good news is that any time you're not watching eye-rolling cliches, cheeseball dialogue and every dependable disaster movie family trademark of the last half century (they're getting divorced, he can't forgive himself for not being able to save their daughter from drowning years before, etc), it's a gleeful orgy of big screen destruction.

When an earthquake menaces California thanks to the titular geological fault line, eggheads led by Paul Giamatti realise it's the start of The Big One, and they have maybe hours to spare to warn everyone before the whole state from LA to San Francisco is levelled (and the poor San Franciscans surely only just rebuilt the latter after Godzilla stomped through it last year).

But the biggest earthquakes in recorded history hit all up and down the coast anyway, and the action movies from soap opera family dynamics to frantic phone calls, desperate escapes, daring rescues and destruction in a truly Biblical scale.

A tsunami levels San Francisco, sending a cruise liner crashing through the city. Buildings in downtown Los Angeles go toppling into each other. You can almost hear the producers crossing their fingers it's not tasteless this long after September 11, but there hasn't been such bug-eyed, child-like delight in destroying cities since Roland Emmerich's 2012.

Johnson's charisma – as always – is so overpowering it almost makes you forget the hammy lines and yawn-inducing backstory. Everyone else is there because they were cheap enough to leave more for the special effects, and the casting of both Paul Giamatti and Ioan Gruffud seems to be an attempt to lend some prestige, but they're just there to pick up their cheques.

If you can endure the scenes of 'drama' and 'dialogue', it's a theme park disaster movie ride with words. If they ever make a ride out of it it'll make for a much better experience.

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