“San Andreas,” even with its heavy-CG special effects bonanza on display, feels like a movie that was ripped from the summer of 1995.

“San Andreas,” even with its heavy-CG special effects bonanza on display, feels like a movie that was ripped from the summer of 1995.

One of the few “old school” disaster movies not directed by annihilation ambassador Roland Emmerich to come along in quite some time, “San Andreas” takes everything loved and hated about the disaster movies of yore, attempting to follow that ever-so-familiar formula of standard destruction flicks.

Director Brad Peyton has created a so-so journey into the eye of nature’s worst – a middle-of-the-road summer event film that gets some things right, and misses others by a wide margin.

First, to do a disaster movie, you need an epic crisis. Sometimes, it’s monsters, extremely large insects or radioactive creatures wreaking havoc on a major city. Other times, it’s an alien force ready to destroy the planet. Or, it can be Mother Nature’s worst – asteroids, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis and, of course, earthquakes.

“San Andreas” has a copious amount of earth-shattering, record-setting quakes and tremors that all activate along the San Andreas fault line – ones so bad they shake entire cities like Lego towns on a play table. So, earthquakes, check.

Second, you need a strong hero to anchor your plot on – usually a salt-of-the-earth cop or engaging army guy or, for “San Andreas,” a firm firefighter. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, quickly becoming the king of summer blockbusters, fills that role with ease. His Chief Ray Gaines leads the film’s “been-there-done-that” story, but at least a talented guy like Johnson makes it somewhat engaging.

Next, you need typical disaster movie supporting characters. The love interest for the hero – in this case – the soon-to-be-ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino). But, surprise surprise, things may not be over for Ray and Emma as the story first indicates. Next, the damsel in distress, Ray’s daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). She’s trapped in San Francisco during the commotion. She encounters three other important disaster movie archetypes, the kindly stranger Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), the cute kid, Ben’s adorable little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) and the scumbag – Blake’s soon-to-be stepfather, the superrich business exec Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd), who leaves Blake stuck in a car with a garage collapsing on her.

A disaster movie can never forget the scientist – the guy who’s been clamoring that “X” will happen, and when it does, he’s there to provide the insight needed to batten down the hatches. Earthquake specialist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) takes this honor.

And, who can forget the journalist! The person out in the field covering the strange story. Archie Panjabi plays a reporter named Serena, who with Lawrence, attempts to get the word out to the public of the impending doom.

All in the cast essentially do what they’re asked. Johnson and Giamatti are the standouts, with the first understanding the type of movie he’s in and embracing the cheesiness in moments and calamity in others, and the latter a fine “scientist type” for the occasion. So, there are the catalyst and the cast. Now, you need the commotion.

“San Andreas” has no shortage of horrifying imagery – the entire cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco get decimated by the earthquakes. Familiar buildings topple, one after the other. Innocent people struggle to find solace from the mayhem. And, naturally, the main character ends up saving his love interest amidst all the destruction – again, disaster movie. Millions will run and hide in the wake of terror, but the main characters, though rattled, will be A-OK.

It’s accustomed for disaster movies to be shocking – watching places we all know tumble by the wayside will always be unsettling sights to see. But, in a world where 24-hour broadcast news and social media gives us constant looks into real-world crises, it’s fair to wonder how far a movie should go before becoming too uncomfortable. A few moments in “San Andreas” venture far-too close to the headlines of today. One moment involving the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge, and along with it, the visible deaths of thousands upon thousands of people, feels irresponsible. Another scene features people falling from buildings, eerily revoking thoughts of the scarring scenes from 9/11.

And, you’re supposed to be munching away at popcorn during this thing?

Not that disaster movies haven’t always featured major demolition on a major level, but the movies of yesterday did a far-better job of masking the more-horrific details of what was occurring on screen. If you’re making a film like J.A. Bayona’s crushing “The Impossible” – set against the backdrop of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – the terror of what happened needs to be seen, only if to make us even more understand the true tragedy of an event of that magnitude and encourage us to help out as much as we can when disaster strikes. When making a puffy summer blockbuster like “San Andreas,” the veil should not be lifted. Destroy Mount Rushmore or the Eiffel Tower if you want – but for goodness sakes, leave the clear carnage out of it.

The second-to-last piece of a disaster movie is the character building. Typically, there’s a subplot with the main character that is solved by the film’s end. Here, it’s about Ray getting back together with his wife and putting behind them the tragic death of their other daughter – a tough obstacle for any film character to overcome. It’s not that the actors don’t handle the touchy material well – Johnson and Gugino actually make the loss feel real at times, but the scripters and director fruitlessly attempt to weave it in with the other craziness going on. Not that pathos is impossible in a movie like this, but it sure is difficult when there’s so much going on at the same time. It’s a bungled stuck landing – the impact is made, but occasionally at wrong times and in wrong places.

And, then, the final part of any disaster movie. The cheesiness. “San Andreas” can become so knowingly cheesy at times that it’s startling. Again, this film can truly become gut-wrenching in moments – truly, truly gut-wrenching. So, how in the world do you mix that kind of imagery with sassy one-liners and not-so-subtle sight gags? The main problem with “San Andreas” is its ineffective balance between the serious and the silly. This movie, at times, has no clue when to stop being rowdy and start being realistic.

“San Andreas” checks off all the boxes of what makes a disaster movie a disaster movie – the catalyst, the cast, the commotion, the character building and the cheesiness. But, as a whole, the movie tends to fall for the same pitfalls that have ensnared disaster movies from the past. It can, at times, be entertaining during a rescue scene – and the film is plenty loud and proud with its effects – but it can also be oddly tone deaf towards the material it is dealing with.

Can the disaster movie survive in a world with too many real disasters present for us to see? Possibly, with the right handling. “San Andreas” is a mixed landscape – unfortunately more shaky than not.