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'San Andreas' levels California with B-movie mayhem
DWAYNE JOHNSON as Ray in the action thriller "SAN ANDREAS," a production of New Line Cinema and Village Roadshow Pictures, released by Warner Bros. Pictures. - photo by Josh Terry
SAN ANDREAS 3 Stars Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt; PG-13 (intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language); in general release

The San Andreas Fault may curve and weave as it makes its way up through California, but the plot of San Andreas is a straight line. Earthquakes hit California, and The Rock teams up with his estranged wife to save their daughter.

Thats pretty much it, and thats all there really needs to be.

Squeezed into the summer schedule after the Avengers juggernaut but before Jurassic World arrives in theaters, San Andreas is a perfect B-movie distraction film. Its the harmless second-tier ride you take at the amusement park while killing time between the headliners.

Then again, theres nothing wrong with killing time alongside Dwayne The Rock Johnson. Johnson plays Ray, the leader of a helicopter rescue team in Southern California. We meet Ray as he rescues a young woman from a treacherous accident on the Pacific Coast Highway and know right away that hes your classic action hero strong, smart, resourceful and likely to wind up taking over the show when all the mere mortals come up short.

Like that classic action hero, Ray has family issues. His estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), has just delivered the divorce papers, and she and their daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario), are moving in with Emmas uber-rich boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).

Ray had planned to take Blake back to school via a daddy-daughter road trip up the coast, but duty calls when a major quake wipes out the Hoover Dam. So Daniel whisks Blake away to San Francisco on his private jet while Ray gets ready for more hero stuff.

No disaster movie would be complete without a scientist, so we get Lawrence (Paul Giamatti), a Cal Tech seismologist who was testing a predictive model for earthquakes when the trouble started. Lawrence realizes the Hoover Dam quake is just the start of things to come.

When the next quake hits Los Angeles, Ray goes after Emma, and then the two of them turn their attention to Blake. Stir in some CGI mayhem and a couple of British brothers to keep Blake company, and youve got the San Andreas recipe.

San Andreas works in part because it isnt about a single quake. This allows director Brad Peyton to pace the action a bit and keep up the tension, ratcheting things up to a climax in San Francisco that offers some spectacular visual effects.

Screenwriter Carlton Cuse does his best to give the plot some depth. Ray and Emma have already lost a daughter, so they have additional incentive to save Blake. Daniel builds skyscrapers, and theres plenty of symbolism in the resulting destruction. Plus, Giamatti has some fun moments as Lawrence, the classic weve been telling you for years! brand of movie scientist.

Its all very by the book, and the biggest complaint you could make is that Peyton and Cuse havent done much to surprise us. Blake is a pretty resourceful damsel in distress, which is nice. But even within the B-movie context, a few more twists and turns would have helped. (You really want to have some fun? Cast Giamatti as the chopper pilot and Johnson as the seismologist.)

Overall, the visuals are great, and The Rock is fun. Just keep in mind that about 90 percent of what happens is completely ludicrous and unrealistic. San Andreas is the Hollywood B-movie interpretation of what would happen in a major quake, and nothing more.

Best to just kick back and enjoy some popcorn with this one.

San Andreas is rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language; running time: 114 minutes.