By Carl Kozlowski
November 13, 2009
There are some filmmakers whom movie fans turn to for serious, introspective fare, like Oliver Stone or Lasse Hallstrom. Others are counted on as masters of the fantastic, like Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson. And for comedy these days, you can't beat Judd Apatow.
But if you just wanna see stuff blow up on an epic scale and watch the world fall apart in a good old-fashioned disaster movie, then check out nearly any Roland Emmerich film: Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 10,000 B.C. provide hours of jaw-dropping action to go with hilariously poor logic in plotting and laughably bad dialogue. Yet they are often undeniably entertaining despite their faults, and with his new film 2012, Emmerich has fashioned his biggest, craziest cinematic opus yet.
This time, the entire world is coming apart at the seams because sunspots are shooting nuclear radiation into the Earth's core and making it overheat, so viewers will get the thrill of seeing landmarks from the White House to the Vatican and every major world hotspot in between fall to pieces in stunning fashion—all on December 21, 2012, the day that the ancient Mayan civilization predicted the world would come to an apocalyptic end.
Starring John Cusack in a bizarre yet brilliant change of pace after spending most of this decade making depressing dramas (Grace Is Gone), direct-to-DVD action films and romantic-comedy retreads like the awful Must Love Dogs, the film rips into first gear within minutes. Picking one of America's most lovable Everyman movie stars for the lead role of Jackson Curtis, a divorced limo driver who's fighting to stay on his kids' radar by taking them on a weekend camping trip that leads to them stumbling upon clues to the impending end of the world, is a casting masterstroke that keeps viewers rooting for our hero no matter how implausible the circumstances get.
And the circumstances definitely get crazy. As the streets of Los Angeles rapidly buckle and form gaping holes just behind his limo, Cusack races to pick up his family—including his wife's new live-in boyfriend, Gordon—and race them to the private Santa Monica Airport in the hopes of taking off in a private plane and buying some extra time to figure out where to travel next. This race through the streets is one of the most staggeringly silly yet cheer-inducing action scenes I've ever seen, topping even the best chases from the Lethal Weapon series—albeit with some rather obvious CGI effects.
Once in the air, Jackson and Gordon—who conveniently had some flight training in his past—head to Yellowstone National Park, where Cusack first noticed things were getting strange in the Great Outdoors and had just met Alex Jones-style talk-radio host Charlie Frost. Played to hilariously crazy perfection by Woody Harrelson in what might be his ultimate crackpot role, Frost is thrilled with the world's impending collapse, since it validates the wild predictions he's been making for years on his show. More importantly for Jackson, Frost has a series of secret maps that will reveal where 400,000 of the world's most elite people are gathering for a chance to escape the cataclysm and relaunch life as we know it.
This movie has everything but logic in it: outrageous car chases, absurd flight stunts, massive earthquakes, a tsunami that slams a naval carrier into the White House and even volcanoes that launch massive, rapid fireballs through the sky. Add in world landmarks being decimated wholesale, and the hoot-worthy sight of the world's largest animals including giraffes and elephants airlifted over the Himalayas by helicopters. If you're willing to suspend disbelief enough to see an elephant suspended over Mount Everest, you will be entertained by this film.
On the plus side, no one can complain that the filmmakers short-shrifted them on special effects. And in a refreshing side note, there is little or no bellyaching from propagandistic characters railing that this is all humankind's fault due to pollution and CO2 emissions—it's purely the sun that's at fault for this one. Well, that and the weird stroke of fate tying in with the Mayan calendar, of course. On the downside, the film is 2 ½ hours long, with the last half-hour becoming nearly as exhausting to viewers as it is for our heroes, leaving one to wonder “What else can go wrong?”
I'm sure Roland Emmerich is laughing at a computer screen somewhere right now, plotting the answer to that very question.