I usually jump at any opportunity to check out the latest big-screen disaster flick with the hopes that some filmmaker will recapture the melodramatic magic that once defined those star-studded epics from the 1970s. But after seeing last year’s Into The Storm, I’m afraid that hope was shot down. And after seeing this summer’s San Andreas, I’m afraid that hope was shot down, drowned, and buried underneath the same rubble that rains down on helpless Californians in this brainless earthquake pic.

Directed by the Canadian-born Brad Peyton (whose credits include Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore – let that sink in for a moment), San Andreas hits every cliche on the Disaster Flick Checklist. Helpful sidekick who perishes after saving a little moppet? Check. Estranged husband and wife with a tragic past? Check. Frumpy scientist (Paul Giamatti) who tries to warn the public of its impending doom? Check. Wealthy asshole (Ioan Gruffudd) who gets his comeuppance near the end? Definite check. Random cameo by an aging pop star? (Kylie Minogue, who, if you ask me, should’ve contributed to the soundtrack, but Sia’s thematic rendition of “California Dreamin” will do just fine.) CHECK.

If you’re curious about any story, all you have to know is that Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play the aforementioned husband and wife who reunite to rescue their daughter Blake (the ridiculously beautiful Alexandra Daddario) from a decimated San Francisco, totally forgetting about the divorce papers they were about to sign right before all hell breaks loose. The Bay Area receives the brunt of the quake, including one insane tsunami, but sadly the filmmakers don’t capture much in Los Angeles, except for some collapsing skyscrapers and — gasp — a toppled-over Hollywood sign. (Perhaps a visual metaphor for the state of overblown studio movies?)

Thrown into the mix are two adorable British brothers who cross paths with Blake in San Francisco, and this is where the movie suddenly feels like a big-budget adaptation of one of those juvenile Choose Your Own Adventure books: Do you go down into the garage and rescue the pretty girl you just met…or do you run and get help? Do you listen to Pretty Girl’s advice and get to the highest ground so that her big-biceped dad can save you all…or do you follow the designated evacuation route?

Overall, the destruction is pretty awe-inspiring; it’s also given away in every trailer and promo out there. But unfortunately, what we’re left with is another CGI spectacle that treats the wiping out of large populations with a frivolous flair. (See: 2012, Man of Steel) Good luck finding any sliver of humanity among the wreckage. And as brave and kickass as Johnson’s helicopter pilot is, he can’t rescue or breathe any fresh life into this by-the-numbers actioner. (One scene even forces this hulk of a man to break down and tear up over a lost loved one — the audience actually laughed.)

The true disaster here may be the glaring omission of an epic ensemble cast that can drive a large-scaled movie like this. I mean, do we need another singular, family-in-peril story? When did disaster films stop being guilty pleasures and start becoming just guilty…of sucking?

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars.