LOS ANGELES - California’s long-feared mega quake hits movie screens this week with ‘San Andreas,’ but the big-budget movie has thrown up a fault line between critics and filmgoers even before its release.

The movie, which stars Dwayne Johnson, has only a 41 percent critics’ rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film review website - although 96 percent of cinema-goers say they want to see it. All eyes will be watching whether the flick, with its $100 million budget, can shake the box office after a lackluster week or two at the start of the traditional summer blockbuster season.

The movie, whose title refers to the San Andreas fault - the geological rift feared mostly likely to produce a mega quake in California - depicts San Francisco in ruins. But those behind the film say they hope it moves beyond the traditional disaster movie by bringing emotion and personal stories to the screen. ‘It is an opportunity to redefine the genre,’ Johnson said ahead of the film’s US release this Friday. ‘This is a fantastic epic it raises the bar of the disaster movie.’

‘Generally when you watch this kind of movie you remember the action, the hero, how cool they were. In this one we’d like you to remember the characters,’ he added. Johnson, whose past action credits include the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, plays rescue chopper pilot Ray, whose wife, Emma (played by Carla Gugino), recently left him for a rich architect. When a massive quake hits Los Angeles and a seismologist predicts another imminent and even bigger one in San Francisco, the pair are forced to set aside their differences to rescue their only daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Although the film is certainly visually spectacular - making full use of the latest computer generated imagery (CGI) effects - some critics have not been kind. ‘California crumbles spectacularly in an action movie that quickly degenerates from blissfully stupid to fatally stupid,’ wrote industry journal Variety’s Andrew Barker.

‘Not exactly earthshaking,’ added the Hollywood Reporter’s Justin Lowe. Some were more positive, although barely.  

‘Does for San Francisco what ‘Jaws’ did for the ocean,’ said Kam Williams of Baret News. ‘Thankfully, the action set pieces are exciting enough, and come at such a successive clip that it’s only afterward that you have the chance to pause and ask questions about the plot,’ said Alonso Duralde of TheWrap.com.

But whatever the critics say, the movie is hoping to do big business at the box office. Variety reported Wednesday that the Warner Bros movie is on course to make $40 million domestically in its opening weekend, while also rolling out across some 60 countries worldwide.

The journal said the movie hoped to ‘provide a jolt to the summer box office after (last weekend’s) Memorial Day ticket sales barely registered on the Richter Scale.’ The film follows a long line of earthquake movies coming out of Hollywood, where fear of a mega quake is rarely far below the surface - the risk of a magnitude 8 or larger temblor in the next 30 years is about seven percent, according to the US Geological Survey.

The gold standard was set by 1974’s ‘Earthquake’ starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, with several TV movies following, including 2006’s ‘10.5: Apocalypse.’

‘San Andreas’ screenwriter Carlton Cuse himself recalls the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake outside Los Angeles which killed 72 people in 1994. He and his wife were woken by the overnight temblor and couldn’t initially find their daughter. ‘It was very traumatic,’ he said.