When it comes to Roland Emmerich movies, we hold these truths to be self-evident: they will be overlong, not terribly well acted, and loaded with melodrama that has the emotional weight of a Hallmark card. In the plus column, the man can stage one hell of a disaster sequence, and his latest movie “2012,” for better and for worse, is all of these things. It sports a ridiculous run time – two hours and 38 minutes, yikes – and the so-called teary moments fall flat, but the annihilation sequences he assembles are like nothing you’ve ever seen. That leaves the acting as the difference-maker, and surprise, it’s actually better than expected. Not across the board, mind you, but having a better actor than Dennis Quaid at the helm is a good first step.
John Cusack is Jackson Curtis, a divorced writer and part-time chauffeur who picks up his kids for a weekend trip to Yellowstone, where he discovers that the lake he and his ex-wife once visited is all but gone, and barricaded by the US military. He later hears the broadcasts of nutcase Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) proclaiming this to be the End of Days as predicted by the Mayans. Jackson is dubious at first, but upon his return to Los Angeles, a series of strange encounters, namely a snotty remark from the son of his employer, a Russian billionaire, makes him a believer, so he races back to rescue his kids, ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and her boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy) before, well, the earth swallows them whole.
First and foremost, to debate the scientific inaccuracies of “2012” is a fool’s errand. It’s an action movie, not a documentary. Good? Good. Let’s move on.
Emmerich’s previous world-destruction movies look like child’s play compared to what he does to Los Angeles here. (And, in what might be a response to the criticism that his movies are too America-centric, he destroys Rio, Rome and India as well.) The disaster sequences are impossibly big, an orgy of chaos…and man, do you miss them when they’re gone. He doles out a few more monster shots later, but once our heroes are temporarily out of harm’s way, the movie gets ponderous in a hurry. Even weirder, it turns into “Poseidon” in Act III. This, ironically, after Emmerich lays waste to a cruise ship.
Cusack was an inspired choice for the role of Jackson. He does good work no matter who’s directing him – unlike, say, Harrelson, who was great in “Zombieland” but not so great here – and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays a geologist working with the US government on their contingency plans, provides similar support for the east coast scenes. Oliver Platt makes for a good foil as the you-can’t-handle-the-truth senator, but everyone else is just reading lines. It’s surprising that studios are still allowing Emmerich to double-dip as screenwriter on his projects. He’s just not a dialogue guy. Send one of his scripts and a blank check to Quentin Tarantino. Please.
It’s funny that we saw ”2012” on the same day that they showed us “The Road,” two apocalyptic movies that couldn’t be more different. The source material for “The Road” won a Pulitzer, while “2012” is celluloid junk food. And Oprah be damned, I preferred the junk food. Yes, it’s flawed, and highly implausible, but it is entertaining, mostly. In other words, it’s a typical Emmerich movie. Strap in and pass the popcorn.(3 / 5)
This originally ran November 13, 2009 on Bullz-Eye.com.