November 26, 2009

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2012 (PG-13)
Humanity struggles to survive a potential apocalypse in 2012, a “top that” disaster movie from Roland Emmerich, the king of world-ending calamity.

The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Independence Day — Emmerich doesn’t fool around when it comes to blowing up, crushing and otherwise demolishing stuff. What does he destroy this time, having demolished Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., in previous movies? Just a little thing called the entire world.

After throwing a bunch of sciencey-sounding hooey at us, the gist of this movie’s form of destruction is the shifting of tectonic plates and the realigning of the poles. There’s some reference to the Mayan calendar, some stuff about the sun and the Earth’s core. Basically, in the not too distant future, bad things will happen and most of the Earth will be wiped out, so says Adrian Helmsley (Chlwetel Eljiofor), this movie’s scientist who presents a wacky idea to the powers that be. Luckily, we’re spared the usual go-round of “not it’s not/yes it is” between the scientists and the governmental higher-ups and we get right to the world’s powers preparing, starting in 2009, for the day after the world ends. Rich people are sold something for 1 billion Euros, Chinese villagers are displaced for some massive project, priceless art is secreted out of museums and replaced with replicas. Then we get to 2012 and as per usual in this kind of movie, the disaster they planned for is coming before it’s expected. So American President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) has to decide what to tell the nation (as though the sinking of California into the sea hasn’t clued people in to the fact that something bad is happening), Adrian and his governmental superior Carl (Oliver Platt) have to figure out how to save humanity on a compressed schedule, and regular shmo, failed author and divorced dad Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) has to figure out how to save his kids (Liam James, Morgan Lily), his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and her new husband, plastic surgeon doctor Gordon (Tom McCarthy).

Kids in peril, a regular guy trying to make good with his family, a president making hard decisions, global landmarks crumbling like one of those Extreme Cakes creations and, of course, a bit with a dog. And I thought I’d seen the ultimate riff on the person-outruns-fire bit in The Day After Tomorrow when Jake Gyllenhaal outran cold air (OK, cold air and wolves, but still the air was clearly the more threatening thing). Here, characters on several occasions outrun, out-fly or out-drive earthquake-created fissures in the earth and giant clouds of volcanic ash.

Yes, this movie has everything you could want — big destruction, edge-of-your-seat anxiety, a crazy guy who knows the end is nigh (Woody Harrelson, doing a commendable job playing a nutter), totally preposterous dialogue (the best of which is when Eljiofor says, pretty late in the game, “something’s wrong” and Oliver Platt responds with great sputtering incredulity and lines that boil down to “ya think?”). It even has at its center the absolutely adorable nerd couple of scientist Adrian and presidential daughter Thandie Newton, playing a character who works with the Louvre and is called doctor (brainy, cultured and a looker!).

So is 2012 a good movie? Well, strictly speaking, no. Even if you can overlook the absurdities of the plot — and there are many — at two hours and 40 minutes (which with trailers and other standard movie theater fluff makes the movie nearly three hours) it is at least 30 minutes too long. But, like a fast food cheeseburger, fries and milkshake enjoyed in front of some trashy reality TV, the movie is deeply satisfying in a bad-for-you kind of way. It offers a few nice philosophical questions to mull over afterward — how would you like your government to respond if it found out that the South Pole would soon be in Wisconsin? Would you fight with tertiary characters and Amanda Peet for a chance at survival or would you die honorably back with the CGI landmarks? — but it is otherwise merely immediately enjoyable and pleasantly forgettable. B+

Rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language. Directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Ermmerich and Harald Kloser, 2012 is two hours and 38 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.