STARRING: John Cusack, Amanda Peet,
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy,
Woody Harrelson, Chin Han
2009, 158 Minutes, Directed by:
the high stakes Hollywood blockbuster poker game, Roland Emmerich is going all
out with 2012 . . .
A disaster movie to end all
disaster movies, 2012 is an enormous movie-going event guaranteed to make
eyes bleed and ears burst with its sheer scale and thundering execution. To bend
the dictionary a little, it’s positively ginormous.
2012 is also
disturbingly repetitive, obnoxiously noisy, and almost pornographic in length.
Instead of providing a comforting bowl of melted apocalyptic cheese, Emmerich
wants to beat the living hell out of his audience instead, staging doom after
doom, death after death, until it reaches a nauseating spin of sensorial
overload. It’s cinematic water-boarding and there was more than one occasion
during the film when I was convinced it was never going to end.
As the Mayan calendar foretold,
Earth is ready to restructure itself in the year 2012, and there’s no possible
way to stop it. For government scientist Adrian (Chiwetel Ejiofor), semi-early
detection has helped to prepare the leaders of the world for the worst, with
billions spent to construct colossal space arks to help preserve humanity’s
In Los Angeles, Jackson (John
Cusack) is a struggling divorced dad hoping to connect with his estranged kids
on a camping trip to Yellowstone. En route, Jackson finds ecological devastation
and the radio rants of conspiracy nut Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who warns of
the impending 2012 disaster, much to Jackson’s disbelief. Once the Earth’s crust
commences its destructive shift, Jackson races back to California to rescue his
family (including Amanda Peet) as the continents crumble, burst, and submerge
during the planet’s ferocious final act.
Roland Emmerich has a wealth of
experience in the field of disaster cinema. In fact, it’s pretty much all the
man has worked on during his erratic career. While hitting highlights like the
rousing Independence Day, Emmerich is also
responsible for cringers such as The Day After
Tomorrow and 1998’s Godzilla. 2012 is a
brown cloud floating somewhere between the two extremes, often uncomfortably so.
While the creative electricity is obviously flowing through the filmmaker’s
system with 2012, Emmerich’s notoriously questionable taste is on vivid
display throughout this gaudy epic, emphasizing a director who’s lost his
youthful wonder, replacing nimble silver screen spectacle with severe
"There’s a whole lotta silly going on in 2012!"
2012 is 158 minutes
long. This is not an unheard of running time for the genre, but for such a
snarling, aggressive film, 158 minutes feels like an eternity. Granted, the
picture’s early scenes are comfortable enough, happily building the suspense as
the ground splits open, scientists stare feverishly at apocalyptic forecasts,
and Jackson slowly grasps the frightening end of the world scenario standing
before him. Action is always a priority for Emmerich, and 2012 submits a
carefree mood of near misses and, of course, cataclysmic events that tear a good
section of the world (notably Los Angeles and Washington D.C.) to pieces. These
are the money shots and they’re sold impeccably by the special effects team, who
manage well under Emmerich’s patient eye, delivering vast, extended statements
of doom, marked by outstanding detail and twisted imagination (however, the
green screen work is the worst I’ve seen since A
Sound of Thunder). With Cusack around, the nightmare scenario is lifted
some: the actor leans into the outrageousness agreeably, though I’m sure
Emmerich didn’t even notice.
There’s Danny Glover as the
President of the United States, a Russian billionaire with a Paris Hiltonesque
girlfriend, Tom McCarthy playing Jackson’s domestic rival, kids with urinary
incontinence problems, Oliver Platt as the snivelling government stooge,
improbable cell phone reception, car-fu, airplane gymnastics, bad Arnold
Schwarzenegger vocal imitators, and surveillance cameras with unlikely range.
a whole lotta silly going on in 2012, and while camp is always repellent,
Emmerich could have made the entire experience more agreeable by keeping the
mood fresh and playful. Instead, 2012 becomes quite grave, taking its
nonsense seriously after a frothy start, alternating between scenes of
unspeakable annihilation and absurd intimacy, where the characters take a smoke
break from the end of the world to worry about parental responsibility or
romantic partners. The female characters even bond over breast implant talk.
Volleying back and forth
between agony and melodrama 2012 tuckers out quickly, forcing Emmerich to
dial up the noise even louder to keep attention glued to the screen. Is there
any reason to care about these characters? Absolutely not. They’re pathetic
Irwin Allen stand-ins saddled with threadbare motivation and abysmal dialogue,
standing in a single file line on their way to the CG-amped slaughterhouse,
filling Emmerich’s screenwriting 101 cliché requirements to help beef up the
mayhem. It’s bad enough to be subjected to 158 minutes of earsplitting chaos,
but to witness a clownish director making at pass at poignancy is excruciating
to behold. The more 2012 attempts to brazenly manipulate, the more it
turns to stone.
Some might make the argument
that Emmerich is in on the joke. That 2012 is purposely engorged to best
extract the finest blockbuster bait. I’m not convinced such a plan was in place.
The picture is too oblivious and too self-congratulatory for such a master
stroke of wit, and, outside of an asinine doggie rescue scene, I’m positive
Emmerich believes in every single moment of this film. Someone has to.
There’s an idiotic audacity to
2012 that might appeal to certain audiences out there craving a silver
screen circus. For the gut-level awe of it all, 2012 will provide the
appropriate chills as Earth succumbs to its fiery, waterlogged destiny. Just
don’t sit there expecting an invitation from Emmerich to join the fun. He’s only
here to beat you senseless, not entertain. It’ll hurt more if you squirm.
- Brian Orndorf