GENRE: Disaster movie on a planetary scale
THE PITCH: Technobabble about solar flares plus mumbo-jumbo about Mayan predictions equals catastrophes that could destroy all life on Earth, even movie stars. A White House science advisor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a novelist/limo driver (John Cusack), his ex-wife (Amanda Peet), and a shaggy conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson) all try to keep ahead of the fireballs and falling skyscrapers.
MONEY SHOTS: Director Roland Emmerich remains the John Holmes of disaster porn. Highlights include the heroes out-driving a Los Angeles earthquake; a volcanic eruption at Yellowstone; a tidal wave crashing over a Tibetan mountain range; and the Sistine Chapel ceiling cracking between God and Adam’s fingers. (Oh, burn!) A tsunami flattens the White House with the John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier, proving what you’ve always suspected: Bad weather has a sense of irony.
WORST LINE: “I feel like something’s pulling us apart,” says Peet’s self-important new husband (Thomas McCarthy), right before a big crack in the earth literally separates them in a collapsing grocery store. See? Irony!
BEST LINE: “You’re telling me the North Pole is now somewhere in Wisconsin?” “Actually, that’s the South Pole now,” explains a scientist when the planet’s magnetic poles go screwy.
BODY COUNT: Oh, about 6 billion, give or take, but you see practically no fatalities up close. In a bit of U.S. chauvinism, 2012 kills off its Russian and other Asian supporting players with far more alacrity than its American or even canine castmembers.
HAIL TO THE CHIEF: Danny Glover plays the U.S. president, but seems a little too modest and whispery compared to the Morgan Freeman administration of Deep Impact or the Dennis Haysbert presidency of “24.”
WILL THIS REALLY HAPPEN? NASA’s stance is that the Mayan calendar does not actually end on Dec. 21, 2012 (the basis of the myth). Nor did the Mayans mention solar neutrinos destabilizing the Earth’s crust, or Amanda Peet. Some geologists believe, however, that a volcanic eruption in Yosemite is plausible.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Emmerich definitely puts his mega-budget on the screen, even though the finely detailed catastrophes start to look the same during the film’s two-and-a-half hour running time. It’s hard to pick on a film that embraces the cheesiness of Irwin Allen’s all-star disaster films of the 1970s, but 2012’s actors prove tedious when they’re not being drowned, burned, crushed, etc. Honestly, I had more fun with The Day After Tomorrow.