Apologies all around on the delay for this review (as well as the others to come, which will hopefully arrive later this evening). I’ve been in the process of finding new web hosting for my blog and also trying to figure out the design/parameters for my new website. In any case, I thought I would treat you to a neat retro-view of one of this summer’s loudest blockbusters, 2012. It’s the story of a struggling writer (John Cusack) hell-bent on reconnecting with his recently divorced wife and kids at the exact moment when the entire world goes to hell. The reason for this implosion of catastrophic proportions? The same Mayans that inspired the geniuses behind Beverly Hills Chihuahua foretold a separate but equal disaster: The dawn of the Apocalypse in the year 2012. Since we all know that Mayans never lie, writer/director Roland Emmerich spends a majority of the film’s six-hour running time bandying about sciencey-sounding words until the point when the geological naysayers in the audience are supposed to go, “Oh, now I get it. That is plausible.”
Ancient religious prophesies aside, there’s enough made-up technological mumbo-jumbo here to please even the dumbest of Michael Chrichton fans, especially those who couldn’t be sated by sweet in-book maps of the Congo or needlessly intricate drawings of DNA. Because Roland Emmerich learned that audiences tend to kill the messenger when it comes to his bullshit premises (cough, Day After Tomorrow, cough) the writer/director cleverly uses deeply-nuanced performer Chiwetel Ejiofor (yes, that is a real name- look it up) as the mouthpiece for his half-assed ideas. Ejiofor, who seems incapable of a lousy performance even in a movie with so much CGI nonsense exploding all around him, spits out mountains of technobabble so devious in size and scope they would make the Martians from Plan 9 blush. Other talent wasted in this film includes Danny Glover as the President, Thandie Newton as the President’s daughter, and Oliver Platt reprising his role as the obnoxious guy from Lake Placid. Amanda Peet is also in this movie, and as punishment for not showing her breasts ala The Whole Nine Yards (p.s. does anyone else remember that movie?), Emmerich sentences her to the near-mute portrayal of Cusack’s ex-wife. It’s every actress’s dream to play a doting wife and mother, especially one with no other personality traits.
But you know what? In some weird way, this movie is vaguely entertaining. Maybe it’s the fact that actors like Ejiofor and Cusack decided to expend some effort rather than phoning their performances in (for the latter see Martian Child, probably in-flight) that keeps this movie from sinking below Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as this summer’s stinkiest crapfest. Even Woody Harrelson seems to be having fun hamming it up in his brief cameo, and although his work is nowhere near as strong as it was in Zombieland, it still infuses the movie with a light enjoyable energy. Other performances worth mentioning include the jerk-ass Russian guy and his skank-ass wife. I won’t dignify these actors enough to look up their names, but I will credit them for taking terribly written type-characters and making them barely watchable. That’s a triumph in itself, especially whenever Cusack’s not onscreen to subtly apologize for the movie via his performance.
The real culprits here are the bloated script and runtime. In typical Emmerich fashion there are too many characters and too many explosions, yet somehow not enough time to make any of them interesting beyond a base level of voyeurism. But what do you expect? Even Emmerich’s best movie Independence Day is the same basic formula. Shit hits the fan and unrelated characters from around the world band together to save the day. Much like that movie, it’s the special effects and performances that are the last line of defense against the movie’s devolution into a writhing semi-conscious terd. God knows it isn’t the writing or plausibility factor. ID4 was a story about a fighter pilot, a redneck, a cable repairman and the president taking down an alien mothership. That doesn’t sound so great on paper either, but throw a couple hundred million dollars his way and Emmerich can occasionally sculpt something satisfying out of the dirt pile he’s concocted. I’ll admit that after two years of terrible Los Angeles traffic, there was something oddly cathartic about watching the 405-freeway snap in half and all the cars descend into a fiery chasm. The first 45-minutes of 2012 are packed with non-stop CGI madness, but much like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, once the initial chaos ends we’re left with the human drama. And neither 2012 or War of the Worlds has a script bankable enough to sustain that much close-focus on its minimally interesting characters.
The effects are intricate and some of the performances are decent, but ultimately the movie is way too long and squanders any of its goodwill by the grueling conclusion. It’s a nice surprise to find out midway through the movie that we’re never fully certain who is going to live and who is going to die (although it wouldn’t take a genius to start placing bets), but besides the enjoyment factor of watching a badly written character bite the bullet, there’s not a lot of emotional content here. Roland Emmerich is a brand in the same way that Michael Bay is a brand. We should know what to expect at this point. It may be entertaining, it might be visually stirring, but at no point is it ever going to be satisfying beyond a visceral level.