MOVIE REVIEW- 2012 doom: Earthquakes, tsunamis and flares, oh Mayan!
There's nothing like a disaster movie to put the "critic" in "hypocritical." We're here to see Art, dammit! Don't you dare entertain us!
Independence Day established writer-producer-director Roland Emmerich with disaster fans as this generation's Irwin Allen, and he's been coasting ever since. 2012 is at least a notch above Godzilla, The Day after Tomorrow, and 10,000 B.C., though it's not in a league with Independence Day.
The premise is that the Mayans were right when they ended their perpetual calendar on December 21, 2012. One school of thought says they knew the world would end on that day. My theory is they just ran out of rock or enthusiasm. If they were so smart, how come their civilization ended before the world did?
Don't worry, the movie tells us. "The world as we know it will soon come to an end," according to U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover), but there's a backup plan. It's top secret, and anyone who tries to reveal it is disposed of.
Anyone but Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), a deranged hippie who broadcasts from Yellowstone Park. "They're building spaceships, man!" he announces.
Well, arks, actually, which are built to withstand the first wave of devastation and keep their privileged passengers safe until the planet is inhabitable again.
That's the plot. Now you just need some people to follow through it. Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is a barely-published science-fiction writer who's divorced from Kate (Amanda Peet) but still in love with her. Her new guy is Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy, director of The Visitor and The Station Agent). Daughter Lilly (Morgan Lily) still prefers daddy but son Noah (Liam James) is leaning toward Gordon.
Jackson takes the kids camping in Yellowstone, where the government has closed off his favorite spot because it's a "hot zone." He meets Charlie, who shares his crackpot theories that start making sense the next day.
The end-of-the-world scenario was developed in India by Dr. Satnam Tsurutani (Jimi Mistry) and brought to the U.S. by his friend Dr. Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who reports to Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), a pragmatic government bureaucrat and hence our villain.
Other characters include the First Daughter (Thandie Newton), a couple of geezers who play jazz on a cruise ship (George Segal, Blu Mankuma); and Jackson's employer in his day job as a limo driver, Russian Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric), with his twin sons and mistress (Beatrice Rosen). There are also a bunch of Tibetans and other foreigners who will be good for international boxoffice.
You wouldn't pay a nickel to see these people if they weren't saying things like: "We have to save what we can, and we have to move now!" "The whole Pacific plate is destabilizing!" "Our mission is to assure the continuity of our species!" and the ever-popular "We can save 400,000 people, but we've got to initiate the boarding process now!"
And you wouldn't pay to hear that brilliant dialogue if it weren't accompanied by imagery of tsunamis, earthquakes, and major cities crumbling. I suspect some of the effects shots won't hold up too well when you freeze-frame them at home, but coming at you in short takes in rapid succession they make you believe the planet is pretty well screwed.
The reason the best of these movies qualify as guilty pleasures for critics is that the more exciting they get the more ridiculous they become. In this regard 2012 peaks fairly early, with Jackson racing a limo across L.A. while buildings collapse all around him and the roads buckle behind him.
With the planets aligning and solar flares increasing the neutrino count exponentially, the earth's core heats up and its crust shifts. (I put that in for the science geeks who live for such details.) That's when the planet becomes the Titanic and the arks are the lifeboats, and people show how they behave in a crisis.
Adam Lambert's song behind the closing credits runs long enough to carry the story into 2013.
If you're still feeling cheated because life didn't end with Y2K, perhaps "2012" will give you some sense of fulfillment. For the rest of us it will do until some bigger, cheesier entertainment comes along.