The heroic Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson buoys up this predictable-to-a-fault disaster movie

Post-apocalyptic films have been so in style for so long that the idea of a mid-apocalyptic one, in which the earthquakes and tsunamis actually crash around on screen, somehow seems a little quaint.

Nevertheless, that’s the idea behind San Andreas, a film in which all of California suddenly buckles along its spine, sending the skyscrapers of San Francisco and Los Angeles toppling into one another like dominoes arranged in a fate-tempting row, while the citizens run screaming for their lives. It’s so bright and thickly daubed, it’s more or less blockbuster naïve art, or perhaps the film equivalent of the kind of paintings you see hanging on the wall at Nando’s – which is to say that there’s absolutely a time and a place for it, even though you might not want to see it in your own living room, night after night.

Most of what works in San Andreas comes down to its two stars: one who’s an infallible staple of this kind of cheerfully throwaway entertainment, and another who could, with time, turn out to be the same. Dwayne Johnson, AKA The Rock, plays the fearless rescue-helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, while Alexandra Daddario, the best thing in the Percy Jackson films and one of the breakout stars of True Detective, is his student daughter Blake.

Both stars look great in T-shirts getting things done: Johnson at the helm of a helicopter, airlifting his wife from the roof of a collapsing LA towerblock; and Daddario clambering over the smouldering wreckage of San Francisco, with two hapless English brothers (played by Hugo Johnstone-Burt from Home and Away and Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones) in tow.

Art Parkinson, Alexandra Daddario and Hugh Johnstone-Burt in 'San Andreas' Credit: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros Pictures via AP/Jasin Boland

Johnson is one of cinema’s great sweaters – in the Fast & Furious films, he often looks as if he has just leapt through a garden sprinkler – but here, his perspiration remains at manageable levels, while Daddario, dodging fires, falling rubble and showers of broken glass, has the golden glow of a model on a gym poster.

As the film begins, this father-daughter relationship is under strain. Ray’s wife (Carla Gugino), who presumably hasn’t seen The Towering Inferno, has left her husband for a slick skyscraper architect (Ioan Gruffudd), whose company has just finished work on San Francisco’s tallest building. The divorce papers are in the post, but before Ray has a chance to sign them, he’s called out on duty to an enormous, state-shaking earthquake, which begins at the Hoover Dam and spreads all the way along the San Andreas Fault.

In disaster movies, familial and geological rifts often go hand in hand – think of Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner’s warring couple in Earthquake (1974), or Jeff Goldblum’s telecoms expert reconnecting with his estranged wife in Independence Day (1996). Here, the story’s much the same, and hard-working, practically minded Ray just has to patch things up as best he can.

Meanwhile, a team of seismologists, led by Paul Giamatti’s dishevelled CalTech professor, are struggling to get word out about the threat posed by the quakes despite their failing broadcast equipment. Giamatti plays the kind of scientist who, when asked “Who should we call?” by a panicking researcher, will pause for a good 10 seconds, eyeballs flicking left and right, before ominously croaking “everybody”.

Paul Giamatti and Archie Panjabi in 'San Andreas' Credit: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros Pictures via AP/Jasin Boland

It is to the film’s great detriment that neither the director, Brad Peyton, nor any of the three credited writers, could work out a way to bring his and Johnson’s characters together, and even temporarily help each other out. Imagine the fun that could have been had if the tough guy had been forced to be smart, and the smart guy tough – but instead, the characters don’t stray far from what’s expected.

The same holds for the special effects, which are simultaneously spectacular and barely adequate. You see San Francisco and Los Angeles falling apart very loudly and dangerously, and in great computer-generated detail. But there’s nothing memorable or beautiful about the carnage; no specific moments to replay in your head once the film is over.

It leaves you feeling there was something prophetic in the way you first see Johnson at the controls of his helicopter, on the way to pluck a car out of a ravine. The film frames him like a saviour, and bathes him in so much morning sunlight you have to squint, but as he insists to the news crew on board: “I’m just doing my job, ma’am.” That’s about the strength of it.