I recently saw Hot Tub Time Machine and thought I’d seen the most ridiculous (yet hilarious) John Cusack movie in some time. I was wrong. 2012 is not only the most ridiculous Cusack film since, I believe, Con Air, but also it has to be the longest. Good Lord, does director Roland Emmerich know what an editor does? The man loves to show off buildings collapsing and oceans rising and car chases and airplanes flying through smoke and ash and ruble. The man loves chaos. To call him a visionary, as some do in the DVD documentary, is an exaggeration. But the famed director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow does have a gifted eye for creating remarkable visuals creating huge tapestries on film. If only he could team up with a decent screenwriter, maybe he could give moviegoers the next Gone With the Wind or Ben Hur (or at least another movie his film, The Patriot), instead of another Poseidon Adventure or Towering Inferno.
There are two main plots to 2012, surrounded by several subplots that are meant to make you care more about the characters. In truth, the various subplots bog down the pace of the movie and really numb the butt after an hour. Plot A features the wonderful Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men, Talk To Me) as Adrian Helmsley, a White House scientist who discovers that the earth’s core temperature is rising and soon massive earthquakes will cause massive tsunami’s causing the earth to flood and life as we know it to come to an end. According to Helmsley’s calculations, this will all happen in the year 2012, coinciding with the ancient Mayan prediction of the earth’s final days. Helmsley informs his superior (Oliver Platt at his sleaziest best) and the President of the United States (Danny Glover) A plan is set in motion to save a small portion of the earth’s population, ensuring that humanity survives, while covering up the details from the general population until the right moment, say, when everyone is about to die. Helmsley struggles with his conscience, as he believes this information should be relayed to all humanity as soon as possible so that they may prepare. He draws inspiration from an obscure author’s whose sole book sold just 400 copies. His name is Jackson Curtis.
The beloved Mr. Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, a weekend dad whose tunnel vision when writing destroyed his marriage. As the film opens (yes, this is Plot B), it is the year 2012 and Jackson is taking his two adorable kids on a camping trip to Yellowstone Park. When they get there, they discover a major lake is now a puddle of muck and that the government has closed off portions of the national park to run some testing. A chance encounter between Jackson and Helmsley results in a ridiculous conversation between the two me. The fate of the world is at hand and these guys decide to talk about the plot of Jackson’s book? The guy must be a genius writer. Anyway, Jackson also runs into a conspiracy nut named Charlie (a go for broke Woody Harrelson), who broadcasts his lunatic rants on a radio frequency. Apparently there are so few real radio stations anymore that anyone can get his own call letters. Charlie explains to Jackson that the earth is doomed; that the government is trying to cover it up; and that he has a map to where the government is building space ships to whisk away the wealthy few who bought their way aboard these arks. Of course, Jackson thinks the guy is a psycho; that is, until he gets home and all hell breaks loose.
If you think I’ve just revealed too much of the plot, don’t worry, that’s just the first half hour of this 2 ½ hour epic. From there, plot A and plot B slowly converge and in between we watch main characters face their (possible) deaths with bravery. Like any epic film, there are so many characters it’s sometimes hard to keep track of who is who. Lucky for Emmerich, he lured in an impressive cast that includes Amanda Peet as Jackson’s ex-wife, and excellent Tom McCarthy as her boyfriend, the pristine Thandie Newton as the president’s daughter (I’ll give you three guesses who she winds up with) plus George Segal as an aging jazz musician. All of the actors breathe life into their cardboard characters.
The visual effects in 2012 are outstanding. What Emmerich and his team of artists have come up with as far as destruction and narrow escapes is a wonder to behold, if not laughable. Watching Cusack maneuver a limousine around the falling debris of a sinking Los Angeles, or a pilot flying a twin engine plane through collapsing skyscrapers is so implausible that I couldn’t help but shake my head and think, “this is ridiculous.” But it’s fun, which is the only reason to sit down and watch the movie. Like Cusack’s upcoming high concept time travel comedy, 2012 is a check your brain at the door (or in this case, put it in a jar and set it on the kitchen counter) type of movie. Whatever message Emmerich is trying to deliver is buried beneath the rubble.
The DVD release of 2012 contains an alternate ending that was even more upbeat that the theatrical release. After watching it, I was glad they didn’t use it. There are also deleted scenes and a decent featurette about Emmerich and what makes his directing style attractive to big name actors. From watching the short on the director, it is obvious that he’s enjoyable to work with and that he runs a loose and fun set.