We haven't laughed so hard in a long time. The latest global disaster movie from director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) throws so much stupidity at you in such rapid succession that it's practically a torrential cliche-maelstrom; the kind of bloated, silly cinematic disaster that is so unintentionally hilarious that actually flips over and becomes a redeeming factor.
California is collapsing into the earth; if it isn't massive debts and raging fires, it's subterranean magma flows caused by (and don't quote us on the science behind this, but here goes...) solar flares casting out neutrinos at the Earth, heating its core and causing massive geological disruptions, plate shifts and fault line earthquakes.
Of course, the United States eats it first - but there's a secret contingency plan in place to protect the wealthy and privileged as society stands on the threshold of complete annihilation. Naturally, a good-hearted geologist and scientific advisor to the President, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who puts in a good performance under the circumstances), stands up to the corruption and appeals to the President (Danny 'I'm gettin' too old for this s**t' Glover) to make the right decision.
John Cusack, playing a Richard Dawkins-esque author and limo driver, gets caught in the middle of the unfurling conspiracy as he drags his disaffected kids on a camping trip and ends up jumping security fences, wandering into a mysterious steaming lakebed and trampling through the middle of the governmental operation. Now that's responsible parenting in action.
Cue the rollicking silliness. You know those scenes that play out in every action movie made since 1980? The ones where the bus jumps the broken bridge? Or a man falls over the edge and everyone thinks he's dead-but it's okay because a single hand suddenly appears, clinging to the cliff? Or how about the plane that's trying to escape from an explosion and gets enveloped in smoke - only to come bursting out with impossible speed? What about the eleventh-hour miscalculation that results in the timer speeding up towards impending disaster? Then there's the grandpa with regrets, the 'ultimate sacrifice' guy, the wormy scientist who makes good, the noble daughter who outlives the father, the divorcee who falls back in love, the evil rich dude, the ethnic stereotype village, the holy man on the mountain, the beauty queen with the handbag dog, the dude with two day's pilot training who must repeatedly fly everyone to safety at street level, through a collapsing city? What about the obligatory heroic kid, or the water escape scene, the tacked-on happy Hollywood ending where it's all sunshine and laughing and nobody really feels too remiss about the death of 5.9 billion people?
And that's not even the half of it. Seriously. It goes on and on like this, piling on so much rehash that you will laugh. You can just sit there, switch off and let it wash over you like action-porn. In fact, perhaps that's exactly what 2012 is - the rebirth of action for the sake of action. To describe 2012 as the best 'rollercoaster-ride-with-a-story-attached' is about as much praise as we can muster for this production.
Cusack, who we maintain is charming and a talented fellow when given the right material (think: Grosse Pointe Blank or The Thin Red Line), maintains low gear the whole way through. His strained relationship with his ex-wife (Amanda Peet, looking painfully skinny) gets the same going-over that you've seen countless times. It has all the emotional sincerity of a daytime soap opera, but you won't care - you'll be too busy reeling after watching Chinooks transport elephants and giraffes over mountainous snowfields after gazing in stupefied awe as Cusack and company bail out of the back of a plane inside a Bentley and onto the tundra.
A special call out to Woody Harrelson who plays an unhinged conspiracy nut with absolute conviction. Harrelson hams it up so much that he almost points towards 2012 actually being the 'Mars Attacks' comedy that it's desperately trying to avoid. Golden.
The real tragedy is this: 2012's production cost an estimated $200-odd million dollars. What's worse, it'll probably make that money back, spawning a hackneyed sequel called 2013. And if there aren't aliens, dinosaurs, transforming robots and Will Smith in there, we'll be bitterly disappointed.
So bad that it's good again, 2012 comes from the same school of film failure as Michael Bay's Transformers 2 - only, Roland Emmerich plays far more with sentimentality which softens the blows, whereas Bay just beats you upside the head for two hours until you're spinning and kind of nauseous. Terrible; wonderfully terrible.