Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 11/16/09 10:57:27

"Fun until it starts making you pay for the fun."
3 stars (Average)

I donít think Iíve laughed harder at any movie footage this year than I did at the internet five-minute sneak peek at "2012," with John Cusack outracing a catastrophic earthquake in a limousine.

Thousands of people die in those five minutes, but what makes it hilarious is the focus on the limo, ludicrously avoiding one damn thing after another ó cascading skyscrapers, exploding gas trucks. Once the destruction kicks in, the first hour or so of 2012 is an epic comedy of retreat; our heroes narrowly escape the end of the world via car, camper, plane. The bad news is that thereís another hour and a half to go, and in the final forty-five minutes the movie starts to feel very long and played-out.

This is par for the course for director Roland Emmerich, who seems to have a deep fetish for the end times: he killed millions of us in Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. He also surrounds the meat of his apocalyptic sandwiches with stale bread ó thinly written characters learning Whatís Important in Life (usually family) while journeying to the allegedly transcendent climax in which Humanity Prevails. 2012 is probably Emmerichís best film, which isnít saying much; heís certainly gotten better at the money scenes, the familiar landmarks crumbling, the tsunamis and lava redrawing the map. Itís king-hell disaster porn. But then Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser try to wrest meaning out of it all.

Cusack plays the standard-issue schlub, a failed novelist with a limo-driver gig, two kids and an ex-wife (Amanda Peet) now married to a plastic surgeon (Thomas McCarthy, who in another corner of his life wrote and directed The Station Agent and The Visitor). As in Steven Spielbergís War of the Worlds, it seems that most of the planet dies so that a guy can prove to his ex-wife that heís a good man after all. There are other characters, like Woody Harrelsonís cracked doomsayer, who seems to be visiting from a better movie (his final scene is perfect), and various officials debating what to do about the impending global meltdown. They debate a lot.

2012 is really two movies. The second movie is sterner in tone, full of ethical brooding about who should be allowed onto one of the seven big ďarksĒ meant to preserve the best and brightest of humanity. In short, Emmerich now asks us to take seriously what we enjoyed about the first movie. It wasnít fun or funny after all, weíre told (or scolded); billions of human beings are dead, and we have to honor them by retaining our own humanity, our compassion, in the face of disaster. This is a letdown, to say the least. Emmerich keeps building these nihilistic dark comedies and then letting the air out of them with a moralistic pinprick.

Iím not saying the filmís ultimate message isnít welcome. Compassion is good, and all. Death is bad ó Iím totally with you there. I am saying that itís a bit hypocritical to get us jazzed with mass destruction ó and get us into the theater with the promise of same ó and then do an about-face and turn it into a 9/12 lesson. Especially one so unconvincing. Weíve got one-half of a good old apocaflick here, though, rendered as breathtakingly as Iíve ever seen it done.

"2012" is made for the big screen, so I canít in good conscience advise you to wait for Netflix. But when the arks start showing up (unless youíre a fan of Stephen McHattie, wasted here as one of the ark captains), you can probably hit the aisle. Youíll have seen a decent two-hour disaster-gasm, and you wonít miss anything you havenít seen before.

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