It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why “Earthquake” doesn’t quite work as well as it should. After all, it had a huge budget for the time, a first-rate Hollywood cast including Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, and benefited from the classy disaster movie craze of the ’70s (including “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure,” among others). But somehow, it just never comes alive. There are a few scenes here and there that work really well, like an audition rehearsal conversation between Heston and Genevieve Bujold that registers as sincere as well as a mid-movie skyscraper rescue that’s as nail-biting as this genre gets, but overall it’s just… there. Among the rather stale, unlikable characters, only Bujold manages to emerge unscathed from the muck; she has a natural likability and sincere straightforwardness, but her onscreen romance with the much older Heston is icky, unseemly and distracting. The rest of the folks are just the worst, beginning with Heston’s cheating husband, who, despite being an untrustworthy piece of garbage, gets the benefit of the doubt as well an undeserved redemption arc by virtue of… ? The misogynistic screenplay excuses his behavior by giving him a melodramatic, icy shrew of a wife, played by Gardner in an unflattering, borderline embarrassing role, and you just can’t hep but shift uncomfortably in your seat whenever those dynamics are playing out onscreen. The mid-movie destruction scene is pretty solid (pun intended) even if it arrives rather anticlimactically, but it’s over pretty quickly so the movie ends up spinning its wheels a whole lot. So, it’s good for the most part but it’s hard to get fully behind it because of its screenplay and character issues, so the final impression is pretty so-so.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)