The apocalyptic hoot 2012 poses certain dilemmas. On one hand, it is one big dumbass of a movie with an ending so bad it defies belief. On the other hand, director Roland Emmerich has a talent for blowing things up real good, and that talent is definitely on display in this ridiculous but entertaining thrill ride.
So, even though the ending made me gag and toy with the idea of throwing my remaining sweet tea at the screen (note to theater mangers: I would never do this, I would just think about it), I have to give the movie a slightly passing grade.
The film starts in the present day, when scientists discover some massive solar flares that are having a physical effect on our planet. They are basically pissing the planet off, and some major crust displacement coupled with volcanic eruptions seems imminent. People in the government are informed, measures are taken, and Earth seems to be on a path to die in the year 2012, when the Mayans predicted. Bummer.
Mind you, the Earth isn’t going to just be set on fire as it was in that Nicolas Cage movie that came out earlier this year. Oh no … this planet death will be far more protracted and glorious in a cinematic way. Earthquakes will destroy Los Angeles, tsunamis will engulf the Himalayas and Washington, D.C., and volcanic eruptions in Yellowstone will create the awesome sight of John Cusack running like mad to avoid the mother of all pyroclastic clouds.
In a nuts role that I’m quite thankful he took, Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, a struggling writer who moonlights as a limo driver. Estranged from his wife (Amanda Peet) and competing with a new man in her life (Thomas McCarthy), Jackson takes the kids to Yellowstone for some camping and, hopefully, bonding. While there, he runs into the military who politely ask him to leave a certain area and retreat to the boring campground. He also bumps into a crazy pirate radio DJ (Woody Harrelson), who informs him about the impending apocalypse while offering up some super huge pickles.
Soon thereafter, things start shaking, cracking, flooding, burning, crumbling and generally getting all screwed up. But all hope is not lost because the government has a plan to preserve at least part of the human race and certain animals. Will Everyman Cusack and his brood make it to the safe place in time? Will the safe place get smoked like the rest of the planet, thus squandering all strains of governmental funds and man hours? Who really cares as long as things are blowing up real good!
Casting the fabulous Mr. Cusack was a wise choice. There’s something spectacular about his voice when it goes into panic mode, and he’s in panic mode often in this one. One of the film’s greatest set pieces has Cusack trying to race his family to the airport as L.A. crumbles all around him. Cusack’s ability to act in such an unrealistic, over-the-top scene keeps you in the game and just kind of buying the whole silly mess. He doesn’t lose credibility in an insane film like this. He actually classes the joint up a bit.
Yes, the film is trite in spots and adheres to many disaster movie clichés. (Doggie Don’t Die Syndrome is in full effect.) Yes, the end of the movie, featuring Mount Everest, manages to actually be anticlimactic. And, yes, Emmerich’s usage of biblical religious symbolism is all out laughable.
With all of these problems, I still had fun thanks to badass special effects and Cusack, a.k.a. Lloyd Dobler, in the middle of it all. Some people will see this flick as the apex of all disaster films, and some will see it as a vapid, $250 million movie in which a little girl is victorious in her battle with bed-wetting. I just see it as a guilty pleasure that could’ve been even better had somebody rewritten the last 30 minutes.