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Not Great, Starts with an Earthquake…

As you no doubt expected, Roland Emmerich’s bloated disaster flick 2012 is a colossal, gimongous, world-sized ball of stupid. I guess I sort of admired its “disaster movie to end all disaster movie” gumption at first. That being said, the film is predicated on an erroneous and ultimately movie-killing assumption: That, after witnessing catastrophic, CGI-enhanced carnage that would mean the deaths of billions of little CGI people, the audience will still care one whit whether the cardboard cutouts played by John Cusack, Amanda Peet, et al manage to survive this fiasco. You won’t, or, at least, I didn’t. And, as such, the film basically ends up being, as Stephanie Zacharek memorably labeled Pirates of the Caribbean 3, a overly long, drawn out “movie tax” — “See it and like it…or you’ll be out of step with the whole universe!

Well, I’ve been better than usual this year about taking a flyer on obvious crap — I skipped Wolverine, Transformers 2, and GI Joe, for example. But, yes, I did plunk down for this one…sigh. I kinda figured going in that actors like Cusack (slumming it, a la Con Air), Chiwetel Ejiofor (much better than the material), Oliver Platt (typecast), and Tom McCarthy (obviously paying for his next indie project), among others, would help sustain some level of enjoyment from these proceedings. And, if they failed, well, there was always the massive doses of CGI-enhanced obliteration to fill the void. I mean, I like video game cutscenes as much as the next guy. (Which reminds me the DC-in-ruins level of the recent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is vastly more entertaining that the similar chaos here.)

But sadly, 2012 doesn’t even work as a popcorn film — I should know, I tore into a jumbo-sized barrel-full about the time California bought the farm, just to see if it improved the experience. For one, two hours and forty minutes is way too long to hold people’s interest when you’re dealing with a script this bad and characters this fundamentally boring. For another, 2012 is just lazily written and weirdly repetitive. Planes have to take off before an imminent cloud of destruction — and, phew, just make it! — not once, not twice, but three times, ah ah ah. (At least automobiles — well, a limo and an RV — only have to just outrun the encroaching ruin twice.) And, when given the End of the World as We Know It as their subject, Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser somehow thought it would be a grand idea to spend 2012‘s last 35 minutes focused on a malfunctioning hydraulic door. (This scene, by the way is, a blatant ripoff of Kurt Russell’s farewell in the so-so Poseidon remake, except 2012 doesn’t even have the fortitude to follow through.)

Admittedly, the film does show some promise at first — in part because it leads with its strong hand, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Brilliant Scientist-with-a-Heart Adrian Helmsley, and in part because the science at first sounds slightly more plausible than usual for these sorts of films — See, for example, The Core. Basically, as a result of solar activity, neutrinos are suddenly bombarding Mother Earth and cooking her insides, causing serious trouble along various fault lines (buh-bye, Golden State) and at the (legitimately frightening) Yellowstone caldera. (I’m a sucker for this explanation, as I *almost* spent a summer in high school scrounging for elusive neutrinos in a well in Italy as part of a mandated research internship — The project fell through, so instead I spent the summer in Columbia SC, scrounging for fractal patterns in COBE DMR maps of the universe. Hey, it was 1992 — fractals were sexy back then.)

I digress. So anyway, our Brilliant Scientist does the math and rushes to warn Sleazy Govt. Official (Oliver Platt), who then takes the information to the Noble President (Danny Glover — and if he’s meant to be Barack Obama, he’s “too old for this s**t.” But I guess he does provide another data point for this guy.) The Noble President — who by the way has a Beautiful Daughter (Thandie Newton) that may or may not cotton to Ejiofor at some point — is forced to consider drastic measures to preserve the species, and so he surreptitiously takes a desperate plan for survival to the world’s other leaders. After all, for this Hail Mary for Humankind to work, they’ll need the secrecy and manpower that only the People’s Republic of China can currently provide. (As it turns out, the Three Gorges Dam…isn’t.)

Cut to Working-Class Joe (Cusack) — formerly a novelist, now a limo driver estranged from his Ex-Wife (Peet), her New Boyfriend (McCarthy), and his two Quirky Kids (Liam James, Morgan Lily.) But, while on a “hey your old man’s still cool” camping trip to Yellowstone — now overrun by scientists and the Feds — Working-Class Joe randomly runs into Brilliant Scientist and a Dead-on Conspiracy Nut (Woody Harrelson), both of whom lead him to realize that everything’s about to hit the fan. And, when his Russian mafioso employer (Zlatko Buric) starts acting frantic and making noise about some kind of Golden Ticket…well, maybe it’s time to pack up the extended family and get the hell out of Dodge.

At which point, all Hell breaks loose, and various world landmarks get systematically destroyed while the above characters gape awkwardly at the carnage — You can just imagine the green tennis ball they were forced to look at with awestruck despair, before the CGI-techs took over for six months. Like I said, all of this is fitfully entertaining in a video game kinda way for a little while — the Yellowstone eruption is particularly ‘splosiony — until Emmerich pours it on for way too long and it all gets to seem a bit misanthropic, even sadistic. (He seems to take particular relish in destroying the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel — not otherwise involved in this tale — as if to say “Where’s your God now?”) Like I said, I’m all for Stuff Blowing Up — why else sit through a movie like 2012? But, after the umpteenth scene of thousands of CGI-people dying horribly, I began to question the moral economy of it all. (And, frankly, Emmerich’s moral economy has been in question with me ever since his transposing of Nazi war crimes into The Patriot. That was sha-dy.)

But, I don’t want to overstate the case. Ultimately, 2012 is too banal to really take much umbrage at. It isn’t even aggravatingly bad like The Box, it’s just deeply meh, and not worth the effort it would take to get worked up over. Not one of the characters here is interesting on their face — they’re all just boring stereotypes, doing boring, stereotypical things, and we’ve seen them all before in Emmerich’s other disaster flicks, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. To take ID4, the “Brilliant Scientist” then was Jeff Goldblum, the “Working-Class Joe” was Will Smith, the “Noble President” was Bill Pullman, the “Sleazy Govt. Official” was James Rebhorn, the “Estranged Wife” was Margaret Colin, the “Dead-on Conspiracy Nut” was Randy Quaid…you get the picture. They even went so far to as get another ex-Star Trek actor (John Billingsley, formerly Dr. Phlox of Enterprise) to recreate Brent Spiner’s cameo (“Nerdy Sidekick Scientist”) from ID4.

So, as you expected, 2012 is indeed mindless crap…but, alas, it’s not even vaguely enjoyable mindless crap. It’s dull, it’s redundant, it goes on for far too long, and all of the characters, despite the best efforts of Ejiofor in particular, are hollow men. This is the way Emmerich’s world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

On a Wing and a Prayer.

Also in this weekend’s trailer bin: Hillary Swank channels famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart in our first look at Mira Nair’s Amelia biopic, also starring Richard Gere, Ewan MacGregor, and Christopher Eccleston. And vampire-of-the-future Ethan Hawke tries to find alternatives to a rapidly dwindling blood supply in the trailer for the Spierig brothers’ B-movieish Daybreakers, also with Willem DaFoe and Isabel Lucas. They had me at Sam Neill.

Update: In a world based on the whole truth and nothing but, Ricky Gervais develops an exceedingly useful skill in the new trailer for The Invention of Lying, also with Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K., Patrick Stewart, Jason Bateman, Jonah Hill, John Hodgman, Christopher Guest, Jeffrey Tambor, Nate Corddry, and, of course, Stephen Merchant. (And, if you stick around, you’ll get one I missed earlier: John Cusack and child running away from scary pixels in Roland Emmerich’s The Day After The Day After Tomorrow, a.k.a. 2012.)

Midnight Agents, Superhuman Crews.

Among the bountiful harvest that is the Quantum of Solace trailer crop…

  • Trailer rights to use Philip Glass and Muse? Several thousand dollars. Lawyers to haggle out an armistice among warring studios? Millions. Finally getting a Watchmen film up and made? Priceless. Costumed heroes (the Voice-of-Mastercard among them) investigate the death of a Comedian in the story-heavy second trailer for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen.

    I’m all over the place on this one. There are some real red flags here — all the Snydery slo-mo shots of Malin Ackerman’s hair, for example — and some of the dialogue feels as stiff and expository as the ponderous take-a-meeting scenes in 300. Then again, as with the first trailer, I’m still having trouble just wrapping my mind around the fact that they finally made a Watchmen movie. So I’m inclined to be charitable, and the little flourishes throughout (Rorschach’s mask moves!) appeal to my inner fanboy regardless. (Also, while Jackie Earle Hale’s Bale-Batman-growl may be a tad distracting, it’s hard to imagine Rorschach with any other kind of voice.) For now, I’ll call it a push.

  • Bad Boy Kirk! Angry Spock(?)! Alluring Uhura! Villain with Ridges on Face! J.J. Abrams introduces his new-and-improved Enterprise babies in the crowd-pleasing trailer for the Star Trek reboot. I can’t say I’m expecting all that much from this venture, and this clip, particularly in its 2 Fast 2 Furious opener, doesn’t shy away from bringing the summer movie dumb. Still, I’m forced to admit this looks more fun than I’d earlier envisioned, and I’m looking forward to more of Simon Pegg’s Scott and Karl Urban’s Bones. (And Bruce Greenwood (Pike) and Eric Bana (Big Bad) are generally a welcome touch of class in any event.)

    Also out of late:

  • A stiff, robotic alien promises to destroy life on Earth in order to save it…oh yeah, and he brought Gort along too. Keanu Reeves get threatening in the new action-centric trailer for next month’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, also with Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm.

  • Speaking of threatening, Harrison Ford looks to uncork the finger of doom for the cause of immigration reform in the trailer for Wayne Kramer’s Crash-like Crossing Over. (I hope his wife and family are ok, at least.) Joining Indy on this border-crossing adventure: Summer Bishil, Alice Braga, Cliff Curtis, Alice Eve, Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta, and Jim Sturgess.

  • Immigration, Schmimmigration. According to the teaser for Roland Emmerich’s next forgettable summer jaunt, 2012, we’ve only got four years left anyway…and it’s all Dubya’s fault. Strangely enough, John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson are all along to surf this improbable Himalayan-swamping wave, but I wouldn’t expect much of a splash at the box office.

  • Finally, the revolution may not be televised, but it’ll soon be hitting at least a few screens here in America anyway: Witness the a international teaser for Steven Soderbergh’s Che (or, more to the point, Ches — I believe this project is still two films.) Word of mouth on this one has been highly variable, but I remain curious to see what Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro have come up with. Still, this strangely disjointed teaser — Ken Burns by way of Oliver Stone — doesn’t really get the job done.

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