Cataclysmic disaster and apocalyptic doom, as foretold by Hollywood, have a way of bringing together broken families, revealing the unseen heroism of deadbeat dads and neatly disposing of their rivals.
This, too, is the micro-level drama of "2012," the latest nihilistic disaster flick to revel in the destruction of the planet. John Cusack plays the castoff father (Jackson Curtis), a failed novelist getting by as a limo driver. We greet him rolling out of bed, spilling his copy of "Moby Dick" as he rushes out the door, disheveled and late for a camping trip with his kids.
His ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), has shacked up with a plastic surgeon named Gordon Silberman (Tom McCarthy) who drives a Porsche, an obvious clue that we're not meant to like him.
Columbia Pictures photo via AP
California crumbles into the sea in director Roland Emmerich’s latest screen vision of the end of the world.
When the apocalypse comes, Gordon, for a time, proves useful as an amateur pilot. This is valuable since you don't want to be anywhere near the ground. Due to explosions on the sun, neutrinos (that old action movie villain) are heating up the earth's core, destabilizing the planet's crust, birthing volcanoes and shifting tectonics.
Hip to this development is government scientist Adrian Helmsley, played by the exceptional Chiwetel Ejiofor. He alerts the president's chief of staff, Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), who quickly brings Helmsley to the president (Danny Glover, apparently filling in for Morgan Freeman).
The government secretly establishes what Anheuser calls "the most important timetable in the history of mankind"- a schedule for the most important and most wealthy to be evacuated in confidential arks.
"2012" stars John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Tom McCarthy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oliver Platt and Woody Harrelson. Roland Emmerich directs. Rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language, its running time is 2:38. It opens Friday at Maui Mall Megaplex, Kukui Mall 4 and Front Street Theaters.
Curtis catches wind of the conspiracy theories of a loony radio DJ (Woody Harrelson, perfectly cast to type). Thus, he and his family are just moments ahead of the collapse of Los Angeles. A number of close scrapes follow, as Curtis narrowly steers them through volcanic explosions, earthquakes and, at one point, a subway that somehow soars above their airplane.
California falls into the ocean and much of the world follows suit.
The director of "2012," Roland Emmerich, has destroyed the world before. His films include "The Day After Tomorrow," "Independence Day" and "Godzilla." He seems to enjoy nothing more than seeing the most famous monuments toppled. The White House, vaporized in "Independence Day," here meets its end by not only a tidal wave, but a tidal wave bearing an aircraft carrier.
The origins of the current rash of doomsday movies isn't hard to decipher: Science has determined the earth won't exist in its present state forever and global warming may well expedite things.
But "2012" is less interested in plausible truth than it is in blockbuster box-office. Publicity for the film has stoked interest in Dec. 21, 2012, as doomsday, a prediction often attributed to the Mayans, who foresaw the date as the end of a cycle, not of the planet.
As the destruction of "2012" spirals around the globe, one can't help a quaking feeling watching the mayhem - especially in a theater cackling at its absurd cheesiness. Should we entertain ourselves in images of the Sistine Chapel collapsing on praying priests?
Do we think so little of the world we've made that we can't resist the impulse to wreck it, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the flames?
After the deaths of billions, interest in the fates of the Curtis family (who are eventually joined by a Russian family trying to make it to one of the arks) becomes laughable. Their narrow, sometimes belabored escapes carry less and less emotion - the audience knows they, themselves, are among the imagined dead.
The most grounded thing here is the acting - Cusack, Ejiofor, Platt, McCarthy and Harrelson are all better than what they're given to work with -another doomsday film, with new digital effects and stock scenes patched together from "Jaws," ''The Poseidon Adventure" and "Armageddon."
And a long one at that. For too much of the 2 1/2-hour "2012," the end is not near.