Solid cast helps ‘2012’ overcome flaws

0
Courtesy of Columbia TriStar Marketing Group/MCT
Morgan Lily, from left, Amanda Peet and Liam James star in Columbia Pictures' "2012." The action film will be released November 13, 2009.

Nothing like a dandy evening’s apocalypse to take the edge
off recession, unemployment, Afghanistan and Glenn Beck. With 2012, Roland “Day After Tomorrow” Emmerich
serves up World’s End 4.0, with cataclysmic effects showcasing what volcanoes,
tidal waves and earthquakes will do once that fabled Mayan calendar runs out on
12-21-12.

Don’t mull over the fact that the Mayans couldn’t wait and
ended their world centuries early, the “If the Mayans were so smart, how
come there are none around?” argument. And try not to dwell on the general
hopelessness this movie engenders. It’s “Apocalypse Three Years From
Now” as simple spectacle — with moments of humor and humanity tucked into
a downbeat “Roland Emmerich Presents: Disaster Movie’s Greatest
Hits.”

There’s the volcanic inferno of Dante’s Peak and Volcano, the earthquakes of Earthquake and the cruise ship staring down a tidal wave (and losing) of The
Poseidon Adventure
.

Seismic events all over the planet concern a government
geologist (Chiwitel Ejiofor). “Earth crust displacement” is coming.
The continents will shift and the world, “as we know it,” will end.
The president (Danny Glover) mobilizes the G-8 nations to act. Years of secret
labor ensue, with nobody knowing about it but a select few. Well, and nutty conspiracy
buff Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson, well-cast). He spills the beans online and
on his pirate radio station. But sometime science writer, now limo-driver
Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) isn’t buying.

“Nobody could keep a secret that big.”

Wanna bet?

A trip with his kids to Yellowstone, “the world’s
largest (potential) super volcano” changes Jackson’s mind. And as
Charlie’s predictions, based on end-days prophecies from Mayan and other
ancient cultures, start to come true, Jackson goes on a mad dash to rescue his
estranged wife (Amanda Peet) and kids from soon-to-be-sea-floor Los Angeles. He
wants to take them someplace where Charlie has theorized that “the
government” might be up to something — a safe haven.

“When they tell you not to panic,” Jackson
screams, once he’s seen the light, “that’s when you run!”

Emmerich packs his script with too many characters to keep
track of easily. Aged musicians on the cruise ship (George Segal and Blu
Mankuma), scattered scientists, a Russian billionaire (Zlatko Buric), the
novice Buddhist monk, the White House team (Thandie Newton is the president’s
art-expert daughter, Oliver Platt is a cold-hearted chief of staff), all face
the end their own way. Moments of pathos pop up in the usual places — noble
sacrifice, people waiting too long to mend fences with doomed relatives, a
small dog in jeopardy.

What’s missing here is someone to root against — the monster
in Emmerich’s Godzilla, the global warming-denying
White House of
Day After Tomorrow,
the aliens of
Independence Day.
Are we meant to applaud when skyscrapers topple and ships capsize, with tiny
digital faceless bodies plummeting into the void? You make the disaster this
real and it’s not entertaining or chilling. Like
Deep Impact, another movie with a black president presiding over
the end of time, it’s more depressing than entertaining.

The cast, however, play this as if their next paycheck
depended on it. Cusack & Co. sell the cataclysm unfolding in the rearview
mirror of an RV, through the windows of a small plane or, in the case of Ol’
Charlie Frost, that glint in his eyes as Yellowstone erupts — the wonder and
fear and utter satisfaction of a crackpot who can say, with smug conviction,
“Told ya so!”

2012

3 stars (out of 5)

Cast: John Cusack, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Woody
Harrelson, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt

Director: Roland Emmerich

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes

Industry rating: PG for some mild sensuality, a scene of
violence, and brief incidental language and smoking.

Roger Moore reviews movies for the Orlando Sentinel. Via
McClatchy-Tribune News Service.