Thursday, November 19, 2009

Film Review: 2012

2012_movie_poster1 Allow me to present you a one-word synopsis of Roland Emmerich’s 2012: KABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!

2012 is based on the idea of the 2012 phenomenon – the Mayan Long Count Calendar ends in the year 2012, and some believe that this will coincide with a world-changing (possibly –ending) event. Anyone with a lick of sense can tell you that the whole thing is sort of bullshit.

2012’s inevitable apocalypse is tackled head-on by all of the world’s governments – they begin gathering all the world’s most important art and alerting its most important people and gathering them together on “arks” they’re building, giant ships that can withstand the giant waves and general chaos to ensure the continuity of the human species.

These are all built by the uber-efficient, super-virtuous world governments that they only have in the movies, the ones that act quickly and in the best interests of the people they represent. In 2012, the Italian Prime Minister is a noble guy who stays in Italy with his people, who goes down with his ship. In real life, the Italian Prime Minister whips his dick out in front of minors. The most evil guy in the government in 2012 is not evil so much as he is practical. In the scheme of things, a relatively minor character flaw.

The governments learn of the coming apocalypse from young geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose name is at best an unenviable Scrabble hand), who busts into a black tie fundraiser for Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) wearing his grubby adventurer clothes and brandishing a scientific paper about some Data predicting the coming destruction – apparently some neutrinos are causing physical reactions, and no one needs to be told how bad that is. Anheuser takes but the most cursory of glances at the paper’s contents and goes “oh shit, we’d better listen to this guy.” This government’s reaction to Science is pretty different from how things play out in real life.

Anheuser takes Adrian to see the President, played by a Danny Glover who got too old for this shit about thirty years ago. This is the first fictitious black President that I’ve seen in a movie since we got ourselves a real one, and comparisons are inevitable. For example, Danny Glover was certainly not elected because of his flowery oratory – every mushmouthed speech that Glover delivers will have you rolling in the aisles. And then he gets killed when the USS John F. Kennedy, riding a tidal wave, crushes the White House.

Yes, the JFK crushes the White House, and those are only two of the identifiable landmarks that Emmerich crushes – other casualties include the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, the Washington Monument and Air Force One. We’ve all known since Independence Day that Emmerich has some serious hards on for destroying things symbolically, though to be fair the trailers for 2012 play up this aspect just a little too much – there are only a few more landmarks destroyed in the movie’s two-and-a-half hours than in the two-and-a-half minutes of the trailer. I hear Emmerich’s next film is called Roland Emmerich Uses Computers To Show Us What It Might Look Like If Things Got Their Shit Wrecked.

Anyway, while all of this is happening, fiction writer Jackson Curtis (the perpetually 32-year-old John Cusack) is in a slump because a book he published sold less than 500 copies and his wife Kate (Amanda Peet) left him and he doesn’t get to spend enough time with his adorable and precocious children. I must give some honest praise to Cusack – his casual, likable performance makes 2012 eminently watchable where someone like Nicholas Cage or Dennis Quaid would have made it seem even bigger and stupider than it was. He turns in the best performance here – Peet turns in the prettiest.

A Series of Events leads Cusack to guess at the nature of the coming apocalypse (which those damned G-men are keeping a secret from the general public), and he saves his family just in time. This leads to another famous Emmerich convention, the Natural Disaster That Chases Our Heroes. You saw it in The Day After Tomorrow when ice chased people – now see it again in 2012 where everything from earthquakes to flying chunks of flaming terra firma chase the protagonists, who just barely escape in the nick of time.

I’ve got to give this to 2012 – if you go into the theater expecting a fun but brainless popcorn movie (and who’s going to expect anything else?), you won’t be disappointed – you might even be pleased. That backhanded compliment aside, it does have plenty of problems.

Every other line in its pedestrian script was tailored to appear in a trailer.

Too many characters have too many relatives (who have friends who have relatives etc. etc.) who die in too many manufactured-to-tug-at-the-heartstrings moments.

At any given moment, the ratio of real stuff to fake stuff onscreen was nearly Lucasian (or at the very least, Jacksonian).

Its long running time could be cut down by removing redundant scenes – how many different times do I need to see John Cusack and family just barely manage to take off in a plane as the earth caves in behind them? How many times, really? The second time this same scene played out, I got up to go to the bathroom precisely because I knew I had seen it all already.

Even so, when I left the theater, I was pretty entertained, and that counts for something. Or maybe it was just that the last movie I saw before I watched 2012 was Daddy Day Camp and I was glad to be watching something else. I am willing to consider that possibility.

Final Verdict: 49 Congos