Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiewtel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Tom McCarthy, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Liam James, Morgan Lily, Zlatko Buric, Beatrice Rosen, Alexandre Haussmann, Philippe Haussmann, Johann Urb, John Billingsley
PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language.
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There are very few subjects left for disaster epics and while 2012 is pretty much along the same environmental theme as Roland Emmerich’s previous disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow, there are enough differences to make it a little bit more engaging in places.
This time, Emmerich takes us to the year 2012, the date the Mayan calendar stops, leading many conspiracy theorists and paranoid individuals to lament the approaching doomday. These are the same people who claimed 2000 would be the end of civilization, so we shouldn’t really expect much different. However, we still get a feature about the potential events trying to explain how the world might implode when the time comes.
John Cusack plays best-selling novelist Jackson Curtis whose work has been read, not surprisingly, by nearly everyone in the film. His works are pulp entertainment, but they represent a certain aspect of society that may need to be preserved anyway. While Douglas Adams would shunt these people off on a spaceship by themselves, Emmerich, who creates such base-line stories himself, wants to celebrate and bolster them.
Jackson takes his kids on a camping trip only to discover that the world is about to suffer several catastrophic disturbances. At that point, they head home to Los Angeles to rescue his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and her new boyfriend (Tom McCarthy) before embarking on a cross-country trip to try and catch a ride on a secret multi-national, government-sponsored rescue ship.
Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the acclaimed scientist who initially discovers the impending disaster and then discovers that the events have accelerated, and Thandie Newton as the daughter of the president, seem to have decided to shed their indie cred for serious moneymaking endeavors. Not a one performs up to their past products. Woody Harrelson as a hippy living out of a camper in the woods broadcasting a radio show about government conspiracies is about the only one who seems to be bouncing from small budget fare to big blockbusters without skipping a beat and still remaining true to his character.
No one sits down to an Emmerich film expecting some grand masterpiece of storytelling. They don’t expect strong performances either. What they do expect is mind-bending visual effects that envelop the viewer in the visceral thrills Emmerich often excels at producing. 2012 certainly does not disappoint, delivering a staggering series of visual effects pieces that make the price of admission suitable…at least for fans of this kind of material.
The most impressive of these is a free wheeling, non-stop chase through Los Angeles as the city crumbles around them. As the events unfold and one extreme moment after another careens off the screen, you feel like you are living through these events with the characters. Speed, drama, humor. It’s all there. Had the rest of the film delivered this level of effects and tension, it might have been a little better than it is.
But that’s not saying a lot. For a film is not just a string of scenes to thrill the audience, you must give them room to think, explore and inhabit. You don’t get that with an Emmerich film. Nor will you ever. Emmerich doesn’t make movies for the thinker. He makes movies for those who want to shut their brains off and be entertained. His success is entirely that and while the film itself, filled with bland performances, hackneyed plot devices and a “same old plot, different setting” premise, is entertaining enough, the result is still the same dismal and pedantic work that we’ve come to expect.
April 28, 2010