If it worked for Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds (2005), it will work for Roland Emmerich and John Cusack in 2012. Doomsday is good therapy. What does it matter that billions die if that brings a family together in one big hug?
|2012 | Directed by Roland Emmerich | Written by Emmerich and Harald Kloser | with Jon Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, and Woody Harrelson | Columbia Pictures | 151 minutes|
As anyone with access to a TV, supermarket tabloids, or the Internet knows, 2012 is the year the Mayan calendar runs out. Some say that means the end of the world; others believe the event will fall somewhere in excitement and significance between Y2K and watching your car’s odometer click to all zeroes.
For Emmerich, who has leveled most of the world’s landmarks in such box-office behemoths as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, it’s an opportunity to unload all the half-baked disaster scenarios he has left over, and to imitate others ranging from Crack in the World to The Poseidon Adventure. The details of his premise are sketchy, but it seems that a once-in-a-blue-moon planetary alignment has unleashed solar flares and neutrinos and set water boiling in an Indian copper mine. Things look bad, and after a few repetitions of “What the hell is that?” and “Oh my God!”, big slabs of Los Angeles are flying into the void like smoking brownies off a cookie sheet.
What’s more, we get the best seat in the house for this relentless f/x onslaught, thanks to estranged husband and father Jackson Curtis (Cusack). After a tipoff of what’s to come from reclusive radio crazy (this is obviously fiction because in real life the guy would be making a mint at Fox News) Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), he packs the ex-wife (Amanda Peet), the two kids (I kept waiting for the references to the daughter’s diapers to factor into the plot somehow), and even the ex-wife’s new boyfriend (good thing, because it turns out he can fly a plane, sort of) into a limo and outraces the disintegrating city to the airport. There they take off as the airstrip collapses behind them and soar through crumbling skyscrapers (shades of 9/11), shattered cloverleafs, flying subway trains, and I think I caught a glimpse of Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz and the cow from Twister.
Ridiculous? Absolutely, and the first time around, the gags have the zany exhilaration of a Chuck Jones cartoon. But really, you’ll get as much of this as you want just watching the trailer. Repeat the process several times over two and a half hours at full volume and it gets to be a chore that’s broken only by the flashes of laugh-out-loud absurdity that pass for drama and plot points. (My favorite line: “I’m Adrian Helmsley — we met at Yellowstone.” Just take my word for it.)
Because when you come down to it, destroying everything is kind of a drag. So why does it keep drawing audiences? Why are there so many films this holiday season (2012 might serve as the comic half of a double bill with The Road for the family on Thanksgiving) celebrating annihilation? Why have there been two disaster movies this year featuring a black president (Transformers 2 being the other) at a time when we have an actual black president in the White House? (Neither of the movie versions fares especially well.) Why such an embrace of an all-encompassing paranoid conspiracy implicating the government at a time when similar paranoid conspiracies in the real world are getting mainstream acceptance? Call me a kook, but these are things that worry me a lot more than the spurious prophecies of a pop-culture fad.