Dwayne Johnson takes on mother nature in a battle to save his family in the disaster epic 'San Andreas.' (Photo: Studio)

Dwayne Johnson takes on mother nature in a battle to save his family in the disaster epic ‘San Andreas.’ (Photo: Studio)

Dwayne Johnson’s new film “San Andreas” takes a plausible possibility like a major California earthquake, and stretches it into an unimaginable calamity, in the grand tradition of disaster movies like The “Poseidon Adventure” (1972).

Can a giant earthquake happen, yes. Can it happen on the scale portrayed in the movie, well, no. But that’s what makes “San Andreas” such an interesting spin on the disaster genre.

Like the “Poseidon Adventure,” mother nature is the overwhelming force that ultimately holds humankind responsible for its folly, in this case, for building cities on a huge fault line in the earth’s crust.

Talk about living on the edge.

Paul Giamatti, Carla Gugino and Archie Panjabi–Kalinda from TV’s “The Good Wife”–round out the supporting cast.

I must admit to a developing admiration for Johnson. He may be a muscle-bound lug-head, but in every role I’ve seen him in, his characters always have a sense of humanity.

Here, as Ray, a Los Angeles Fire Department Search and Rescue helicopter pilot, he becomes central to the unfolding disaster. He’s the rock, literally, that stands between an immutable force and ultimately… his family.

Ray’s estranged wife, Emma, (Gugino) and new beau, Daniel, (Ioan Gruffudd) are moving in together, while daughter, Blake, played by the beautiful Alexandra Daddario, heads to San Francisco for college–clearly, not a good move.

The movie comes down to Johnson’s efforts to rescue his wife and daughter amid the overwhelming disaster. From a tsunami that sweeps San Francisco Bay to buildings that crumble like sand castles caught in a rip tide, Johnson battles larger-than-life forces with superhero daring.

In a striking foreshadowing of the dangers yet to come, Rau is call upon to rescue a man who is trapped as the rumblings begin. The ensuing quake levels much of Los Angeles, including the iconic Hollywood sign. But Ray manages to pluck his wife from the ruins just in time.

Giamatti playes the Caltech earthquake geek who alerts Ray that San Francisco is next. Ray reunites with his wife and they race to save their daughter. After losing a child some years earlier, leading to their split, Ray and Emma are determined to keep this one out of harm’s way.

Truth be told, the stunts are reasonably well executed, even though at times, shots of the disaster look too much like the CGI, special-effects-driven scenes they are.

Director Brad Peyton, who helmed “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” also with Johnson, is out to create a dire sense of fear and confusion amd many of his interior shots work very well to that end.

Johnson’s desire to put family first is admirable, yet he literally leaves dozens of people behind in his solitary quest, rattling the imagination.

Daddario maintains a bright screen presence, and manages to keep her half of the narrative afloat. I first became aware of her in the role of Annabeth Chase in the “Percy Jackson” series. She’s terrific and has a captivating presence. She’s a budding star, for sure.

Giamati, mumbling his best quake parables, is strong as always. His interplay with Panjabi is terrific. Panjabi, not quite a star just yet, is terrific. Her presence, here, bodes well, since she has officially left “The Good Wife.” She is the surprise of the movie.

As a life-long fan of the Left Coast, I didn’t immediately want to see this movie, and even now, I’m somewhat diffident about the whole experience.

In fact, the movie’s premise was so disconcerting it generated a slew of articles quoting real seismologists, who reassured that if, and when, the big one comes, it won’t do near the damage portrayed in the movie.

Still, the threat is real enough to produce a shiver and an extra kick of Adrenalin for moviegoers. As such, it’s perfectly good summer fodder; certainly not the best, but far from the worst. Johnson is the main attraction and he doesn’t disappoint.

The movie opens Friday (May 29).

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