CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND DECIBEL WARNINGS
Maybe it's just me getting old and decrepit, but are movies getting louder these days? Monsters: Dark Continent had me putting my fingers in my ears because the action sequences are too damned noisy, but there are at least great chunks of that film which aren't cranking the volume up so high that steelworks in the next county are writing to the council complaining about the noise from Milton Keynes Cineworld. This one is even worse because it doesn't have anywhere near as much respite from the maniac pushing the volume levels as far as they'll go. I came out of the cinema thinking I probably need a couple of Nurofen and a lie down.
San Andreas is partly a throwback to old-fashioned disaster spectacles like Earthquake (except they've taken the Sensurround and pumped it through the speakers) and partly a continuation of the more recent trend for mega-annihilation in everything from superhero knockabouts to imbecilic alien robot smackdowns via Roland Emmerich's insane brand of destructo porn. Now it can all be done in eye-ripping 3D with ultra-HD pixel-sharp computer effects, rather than murky opticals and cardboard model shots, popcorn blockbusters have to outdo one another in the catastrophe stakes with more things exploding, more skyscrapers toppling and more innocent civilians getting slaughtered.
San Andreas is partly that, but it's also a staggering piece of hero worship in which Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is fantastically great and wonderful at absolutely everything. He's a search and rescue helicopter pilot who starts off by flying a helicopter sideways down a crevasse to save a girl trapped in her car, When Mother Earth decides she's had enough being solid and stable and starts shaking California like a snowglobe, Dwayne Johnson sets off to rescue his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and daughter (Alexandra Daddario) - no-one else, not any of the thousands of wounded, lost, homeless and desperate that it's actually his job description to help, just his immediate family. Along the way he'll come to terms with the traumatic accident that killed their younger daughter, but more importantly he'll fly (and crash) helicopters, he'll pilot and parachute from small aircraft, he'll drive a speedboat over a tsunami, he'll swim underwater for longer than anyone since The Man From Atlantis.
Meanwhile his daughter gets trapped in a limo (abandoned by her cowardly billionaire stepfather-to-be) in a collapsing underground car park, saved by a hilariously posh young Brit and his kid brother, while Gugino runs about on the roof of a toppling skyscraper after a surreally brief chat with Kylie Minogue (it's already been pointed out that, after Holy Motors, this is the second film in which Kylie turns up for one scene then falls off a tall building), with Johnson whirling about in his chopper above. Elsewhere, CalTech seismology professor Paul Giamatti gets the expository job of explaining exactly what's going to happen based on flashing computer screens, in between hiding under a wooden desk.
In other and fewer words, this is the biggest pile of utter nonsense we've had in quite a while, but in this instance that's actually not a bad thing. San Andreas ends up as rather good fun, if you like The Rock being magnificent in the face of tidal waves, and if you enjoy the sight of whole cities getting arbitrarily flattened, It's laugh-out-(very)-loud stupid and has no depth or substance beyond the gosh-wow spectacle, and heaven alone knows what's it's like in 3D wobblychair IMAX. Seen flat and in a chair firmly nailed to the floor, I think I quite enjoyed it.