In the grand tradition of movies named after years, (“2001,” “1941,” “10,000 B.C.”) comes Roland Emmerich’s new piece of cinematic fluff, “2012.” No where near the quality of disaster picture he was producing fifteen years ago, Emmerich has served up a half-baked, bloated, boilerplate picture that mines the deepest caves of cinema cliches, and tosses them up on screen in the most predictable succession. By the end of its ridiculously long run time I was no longer sure if “2012” referred to the year in which the film takes place, or the number of minutes I had been fettered to my seat.
Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser quickly glaze over the cause of the world destroying disaster. Whether it was the rare planetary alignment as Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson playing a character not too far from his true self), the hippy conspiracy theorist says, or the massive solar flares, a plot device already used earlier this year in Alex Proyas’ “Knowing,” it is never clear. But whatever it is it ruins John Cusack’s camping trip to Yellowstone with his kids. Then the world blows up, the everywhere floods, and the rich elite crowd onto massive submarine/cruise ships called “Arks.”
Though the obvious relation to the story of Noah from the Book of Genesis this film barely explores the religious allegory it is unwittingly unleashing on the world. Besides one contrived scene of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City being destroyed there is little mention of omnipotent forces washing away the ungodly from the Earth. In fact during the Vatican scene I got the impression they were saying this worldly destruction was just something that happens, not really by the hand of some vengeful God, if He even exists. Thus the world wide deluge and the use of Arks toward the end just come of as contradictory, and just sloppy.
The one thing that isn’t sloppy is the effects. From the end of the first act to the midpoint of the movie first California and then Yellowstone are laid to waist. For most of it John Cusack is out running some sort of mayhem, in multiple cars, RVs, and planes. It seemed like the film was created by Rockstar Games rather than Sony Picture Entertainment, and had their been a controller in my hand the experience would have been great fun, but even though the colossal destruction is impeccably rendered, the redundancy acts like a subscription for Ambien.
Like most disaster movies (Ernie and Gene from “The Poseidon Adventure,” Steve and Paul from “The Towering Inferno,” Jake and Dennis from “The Day After Tomorrow”) there are the dueling leads. Here are Cusack, as the poorly named Jackson Curtis, a divorced novelist who must save his kids and his ex-wife from being swallowed by the Earth, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as White House Geological advisor Adrian Helmsley. They are inexplicably linked through Curtis’ first novel about self sacrifice in space that Helmsley is reading, and eliciting may crowd groans, references through out the picture. Both are serviceable leads, but their canned dialogue makes them almost unbearable. Ejiofor’s all too sincere speech at the end about the meaning of humanity drew way more laughs than tears.
Granted this film isn’t really about character, or innovation, or even dramatic story telling, but there is nothing new in this picture. Emmerich uses the image of birds migrating en masse… again. He destroys the White House… again. He even shows the capsizing of a cruise ship that was ripped out of a terrible remake (“Poseidon”) of a far superior disaster movie.
There is a cast of hundreds including Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Jimi Mistry and George Segal. Most notable, and even laughable, is Danny Glover as the U.S. President. Years ago casting a black actor as the President was seen as hopeful and progressive, now it comes across as stretching to be relevant.
Since his falling out with Dean Devlin, Emmerich’s pictures have been rolling down a not too tall hill. “Independence Day” was fun, and set the bar for summer block busters for almost two decades, “Stargate” was by far the duo’s best film, but since Devlin’s departure from the team after the absurd yet amusing “The Patriot” Emmerich has been working with writing/producing partner Kloser. They have created three of the poorest films of the 21st Century, “The Day After Tomorrow,” “10,000 B.C.” and this, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. If they follow the pattern they’ve set get ready for “The Day After 10,012 A.C.” in the summer of 2013. One would hope that this film would be a wake up call to Emmerich to rebuild some bridges with Devlin, and give the public more of the just above mediocre sci-fiction they are capable of.
El Luchador Rating: 1 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)