Earth's End

John Cusack and amazing special effects make '2012' a guilty pleasure

The apocalyptic hoot that is 2012 poses a dilemma. On one hand, it's one big, dumb movie with an ending so bad that it defies belief. On the other hand, director Roland Emmerich has a talent for blowing things up, and that talent is definitely on display in this ridiculous but entertaining thrill ride.

So, even though the ending made me gag, and I considered throwing my remaining sweet tea at the screen, I have to give the movie a slight recommendation.

The film starts in the present-day, when scientists discover that massive solar flares are having a physical effect on our planet: They are basically pissing the planet off, and some major crust displacement, coupled with volcanic eruptions, seems imminent. People in the government are informed; measures are taken; and Earth seems to be on a path to die in the year 2012, when the Mayans predicted. Bummer.

Mind you, the Earth isn't just going to be set on fire as it was in that Nicolas Cage movie that came out earlier this year. Oh, no ... this planet death will be far more protracted and cinematically glorious. Earthquakes will destroy Los Angeles; tsunamis will engulf the Himalayas and Washington, D.C.; volcanic eruptions in Yellowstone will create the awesome sight of John Cusack running like mad to avoid the mother of all pyroclastic clouds.

Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, a struggling writer who moonlights as a limo driver. Estranged from his wife (Amanda Peet) and competing with a new man in her life (Thomas McCarthy), Jackson is taking the kids to Yellowstone for some camping and, hopefully, some bonding. While there, he runs into the military, and soldiers politely ask him to leave a certain area and retreat to the boring campground. He bumps into a crazy pirate-radio DJ (Woody Harrelson) who informs him about the impending apocalypse while offering up some huge pickles.

Soon thereafter, things start shaking, cracking, flooding, burning, crumbling and generally getting all screwed up. But all hope is not lost, because the government has a plan to preserve at least part of the human race, as well as certain animals. Will everyman Cusack and his brood make it to the safe place in time? Will the safe place get smoked like the rest of the planet? Who really cares, as long as things are blowing up real good?

Casting the fabulous Mr. Cusack was a wise choice. There's something spectacular about his voice when it goes into panic mode, which happens often here. One of the film's greatest set pieces has Cusack trying to race his family to the airport as Los Angeles crumbles all around him. Cusack's ability to act in such an unrealistic, over-the-top scene helps the viewer sort of believe the whole silly mess. He doesn't lose credibility in an insane film like this; he actually classes the joint up a bit.

Yes, the film is trite in spots, and it adheres to many disaster movie clichés. (Doggie Don't Die Syndrome is in full effect.) Yes, the end of the movie, featuring Mount Everest, manages to actually be anticlimactic. And, yes, Emmerich's use of biblical symbolism is all-out laughable.

Despite these problems, I still had fun, thanks to badass special effects and Cusack being in the middle of it all. Some people will see this flick as the apex of all disaster films, and some will see it as a vapid $250 million movie in which a little girl is victorious in her battle with bed-wetting. I see it as a guilty pleasure that could've been even better had somebody rewritten the last 30 minutes.


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