Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: "2012"

There's a scene in Roland Emmerich's "2012" where earthquakes are ravaging the face of the planet, and holy men are praying in the Sistine Chapel when a crack grows in the dome, splitting God's outstretched fingers away from Adam's.

I suspect audiences, or at least critics, are going to be equally divided over this outsized disaster flick.

For me, it was a big, dumb, thoroughly fun movie. If you go into it looking for serious social allegory -- as Emmerich was trying to do with the global warming-themed "The Day After Tomorrow" -- then you're probably going to regard this new film as a travesty that treats human lives with as much dignity as blips on a video game.

But poking fun at this movie is inane, since it exists as a parody of itself -- or at least its genre.

"2012" is essentially a special-effects smorgasbord of nearly every disaster movie ever made: Earthquakes! Volcanic eruptions! Titanic-like drownings! Explosions that must be outrun! Tsunamis! Buildings collapsing! Plane crashes! Car crashes! Jumping over chasms in a limo! Jumping over chasms in a Winnebago! Meteors! Puppies in peril!

We get to see Los Angeles slide into the ocean, the White House wiped out (a habit for Emmerich), and Las Vegas collapse into the burning maw of hell (which is probably where it was headed anyway).

About the only thing missing is for a certain lizard, 1,000 feet tall and seriously P.O.'d, to poke his head out of the ocean.

John Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, a failed writer and divorced dad, who stumbles across the mother of all government conspiracies: The American president (Danny Glover) and other world leaders have known for years that the Earth is on the brink of destruction. It seems some neutrinos or something from the sun are warming the planet's core, which will eventually cause the continental plates to start slip-sliding around and slamming into each other.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the conscientious scientist advising the heads of state on how the human race is going to survive -- well, a small percentage of it, anyway. Oliver Platt is his bean-counting boss, only too happy to determine who gets to live and who must die. Of course, the ultra-rich are guaranteed a spot.

Jackson gathers up his clan, including ex-wife (Amanda Peet), estranged kids and even his competition, the smarmy stepdad (Thomas McCarthy). They must race through one ridiculous set of challenges after another (see Explosions! Eruptions! Drownings! etc.) to survive.

Plot? OK, here's the plot: Emmerich, who co-wrote the script with Harald Kloser, piles on huge computer-generated action sequences, then switches to a weepy humanist moment where somebody tries to reach their long-lost son/daughter/wife/colleague to whisper encouraging words, before the huge tidal waves and explosions roll in to snuff them out. Rinse and repeat.

I lost count of how many times a phone line went dead as the apocalyptic destruction overran somebody. Of course, one might wonder how the phones are still working when most of the planet's surface looks like it's been through a shredder.

But these sorts of ruminations are anathema to the pure cinematic roller-coaster ride that is "2012." The best of such rides have a sign saying you must be so tall in order to be allowed onboard. For this movie, the measurement is snobbishness: Those who insist on taking it seriously will be left behind.

3.5 stars

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