There’s a reason to love Roland Emmerich’s latest destruct-o-picture, 2012 (no assembly required — just throw the pieces up in the air and voila ), but it’s not in the movie itself, which is an exploding turkey of epic proportions. However, if it is indeed true that actors like John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson make the big popcorn blockbusters in order to afford to make smaller indie flicks, then Fox Searchlight should have an awfully big slate next year; 2012 probably just paid for two more Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent) directorial efforts, in addition to picking up the tab on a year’s worth of Oliver Platt all-you-can-eat buffets.
Beyond that, there’s not a lot else positive to say for 2012 unless you enjoy having your senses assaulted, your brain liquefied, and your bowels throttled with bass. If that’s the case, you may walk out blind and stupid with a pant-full of your own defecate, but you’ll do so with a big dumb grin on your face, because for nearly a full two hours of the 158 minute run-time, nothing is safe from Emmerich’s CGI wrecking ball. The east coast, the west coast, China, Vegas, and the rest of this godforsaken Earth gets completely torched, tossed, shredded, and sliced like the wrists of a teenage Goth girl. Emmerich literally leaves no stone unturned — he yanks them out of the ground and smashes them into each other in a incoherent, aimless mass of overwrought, over-long, all-encompassing destructive atrociousness.
Nothing is left in the wake of that bull-dozing, either — not even a plot. Indeed, it’s an almost impossible movie to spoiler — the imminent destruction of the Earth is revealed early on, and the audience is left with nothing to do for the rest of the film except watch as the globe shits itself. The only narrative thread — fringed and weak as it is — involves whether an obscure underemployed author, Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), his two children, ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and her boyfriend (Thomas McCarthy) will make it to the Arks before the gates close and the tsunamis arrive — think National Lampoon’s Apocalypse (“Holiday Roooaaaad”). And if you don’t know how it ends the second you walk into the theater, you’ve clearly never seen an Emmerich film. Also, you’re kind of dumb, and I don’t think I want to be your friend.
There’s also a international operation to build Arks, and get the key figures of government into them before it’s too late. Oliver Platt’s Chief of Staff to Danny Glover’s POTUS and his daughter, Thandie Newton, steer the subplot into the abyss, along with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s geological scientist, who was the one who predicted the end of the world in the first place. Ejiofor is also the only guy in the movie worth paying much attention to — apparently, all of Cusack’s early-career magnetism rubbed off on Chiwetel, and, sadly, none of us were privy to that rub-down exchange (pants were not involved, I understand).
To be sure, there’s a lot of meaningless religious symbolism, too, as well as a few made-up sci-fi words to stick in the trailer to appeal to the sci-fi geeks who find J.J. Abrams too cerebral. Emmerich also pays a lot of lip service to the value of an individual life, even as we watch thousands of CGI people fall out of their office buildings and plunge into darkness. But it’s not their lives that matter — they are the faceless masses (like us, in the movie theater). What really matters is that John Cusack makes it to the end of the film, because he was Lloyd Dobler, dammit.
Actually, if Emmerich had stripped out the nods to sacrifice the overly-sentimental family bullshit storyline (complete with a token dog) — hell, if he’d just removed the dialogue all together — it might have been a morbidly amusing look at the complete extinction of the end of the world. It’s hard to find fault with the CGI, except for the overabundance of it, and it’s even rather beautiful in its own sick way — 2012 could have been an artistic exploration of humanity’s collective oh-shit face as the Earth crumbled in on itself. Instead, it’s a so-bad-it’s funny hootenanny that runs out of hoot about halfway through, leaving us exasperated, out of popcorn, and wishing that the rest of humanity would just die already so we could go home.