2012
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt
Rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language
2 hr., 38 min.

Lets face it: Roland Emmerich is no auteur. It’s even a stretch to call him a director. He’s more like Hollywood’s resident disaster film coordinator, specializing in the most mass-produced, special-effects-laden drivel that thrives on shock and awe, and operates on only the grandest and most banal scale.

Peruse his résumé and you’ll see such over-stuffed action flicks as 10,000 BC, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Stargate and (the admittedly landmark) Independence Day. Yes, the stuff sells, and sometimes these popcorn films are more than mildly entertaining. Disaster can always be made universally appealing — especially if it’s your city that’s being blown up. In an Emmerich thrill-ride, watching recognizable landmarks go up in flames, sink into the ocean or be torn apart by earthquakes, lava or an errant oil tanker is always a curiously exhilarating, yet ultimately mind-numbing, proposition.

There’s one big problem with his work: he’s blown up the world so many times that he’s completely forgotten what characters feel when they witness the complete and total destruction of home, friends and — you know — the world.  There’s no effort on his part to inject any of these hundreds of doomsday scenarios with a semblance of real (or even serviceable) emotion. Emmerich, it seems, is too busy finding new ways to make the White House explode (which he does yet again in his latest film).

2012 is a truly bizarre, and at times fascinating, production — for all the wrong reasons. That the Mayans supposedly predicted this impending catastrophe thousands of years ago only provides a thin conspiratorial veneer that the infamous director uses to string together standard-issue disaster conventions. By standard, I mean generic; and by generic, I’m referring to the casting of John Cusack, only the newest in a long line of bland, everyman B+ list actors that Emmerich has employed to anchor his films. (Other previous notables include Dennis Quaid, Matthew Broderick and Kurt Russell.)

Cusack completely phones in his performance as the divorced father trying to make amends with his estranged kids by taking them camping for the weekend. (Why, again, is this the blueprint for all disaster movies?) Somehow, Cusack finds a way to make the Tom Cruise working-man shtick in War of the Worlds seem Oscar-worthy, even courageous, in comparison; though, luckily, there aren’t many lines for him to monotonously read before the chaos comes. And you’ll know when it starts: it’ll hit you like a wildly careening (and airborne) bullet train. Literally.

There are some benefits to having blown up the world as many times as Emmerich has: you get to know how to do it in more preposterous ways.  Give a hand to the director. He does have a deft touch for the little details of Armageddon. I can only imagine how geeked the special effects guys were to have full rein over dreaming up preposterous ways to destroy things.

The result is equivalent to cobbling together all the money-shots from Titanic, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow and The Da Vinci Code to provide one giant, almost three-hour, jaw-dropping fiasco. Thousands of passengers fall to their deaths from the ceilings of luxury cruise ships, freeways collapse on gridlocked cars in Southern California, and Vatican City monoliths disintegrate on the heads of kneeling priests and huddled masses. Powerful stuff, and not even the half of what gets blown up, swept away or swallowed alive in devastation of biblical proportions.

But don’t worry; John Cusack and his family get away. Not that you’ll care. Destruction, not salvation, was the main draw anyway. 

erik@vcreporter.com