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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


John Cusack escapes many disasters, except for this movie.
2012 is the latest example in what I call the Cinema of Bombast. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra are two other recent examples. Films in this genre are all about being as bombastic as possible, as frequently as possible. They exist solely to provide a series of elaborate special effects sequences, with little or no regard for plot or character. In fact, those things are merely afterthoughts used to propel the movie from one episode of spectacle to the next. Some people really like this kind of thing. They want to see something blow up or get destroyed every five minutes, and as long as that's what they get, they walk away happy. Other people have no problem with stuff getting blown up or destroyed, but actually value having an interesting plot and well-developed characters to follow in the process. That's the camp I'm in, and it's why I think 2012 is a boring, stupid, overlong, obnoxious, soulless piece of Hollywood "product."

This is no less than the third end-of-the-world movie from director Roland Emmerich (after Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow). It follows most of the well-worn disaster movie clichés, starting with an "everyman" hero - in this case failed author turned limo driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) - who, naturally, is trying to reunite with his ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and earn back the respect of his children. (Incidentally, as in all disaster movies, the hero has one boy and one girl.) When a long-ago Mayan prediction that the world would end on 12/21/12 starts to come true, Jackson leads the way to China, where it's rumored that world governments have built spaceships to lift the richest/most powerful individuals to safety.

The other characters Jackson encounters along the way are every bit as clichéd as he is. Intrepid researcher (Chiweter Ejiofor) who forecasts the coming disaster and has to try to convince everyone of its onset? Check. Otherwise useless love interest (Thandie Newton) for said researcher? Check. Government jackass (Oliver Platt) who doesn't care how many people die so long as he and the other politicos escape? Check. Conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson) who provides the hero with seemingly crackpot information that later turns out to be true/useful? Check.

The clichés abound even further. This is one of those movies where you know who will live and die based on how they behave. The sense of morality in 2012 is so black-and-white that all the good people live and all the bad people die. (They also die at the precise moments you expect them to die.) I probably do not need to tell you whether Jackson wins back his ex-wife's heart, or whether his children find new respect for him. 2012 additionally follows some age-old conventions stating that when our escaping hero is slowed down in traffic, there will be a little old lady driving the car in front of him. And speaking of cars, if a movie features a character who cherishes his beloved sports car, you just know that auto will be demolished. Then there's the most annoying and ludicrous of the clichés, which 2012 uses repeatedly: Despite a population of over six billion, our hero will inevitably encounter people he knows amid worldwide chaos. Maybe it really is a small world after all…

As Jackson and the others try to make their way to safety, they face sinkholes, crumbling buildings, volcanic activity, floods, shifting ice caps, earthquakes, and more. Each time, they survive some catastrophe by the skins of their teeth which, believe it or not, actually robs the movie of some of its potential entertainment value. Consider the moment in which they're trying to get out of L.A. in Jackson's limo. As he tries to squeeze under a collapsing overpass, the concrete scrapes the roof of the car, only to fall a millisecond after his back bumper clears it. This sort of thing occurs again and again. When the world is coming to an end and things are falling apart, we don't really need all these last-second escapes to build suspense. In fact, because they are so preposterous (not to mention so repetitive), the action quickly becomes more laughable than engrossing.

It's relatively easy to create elaborate special effects these days. While the process may have many steps, CGI advancements have been perfected to the point where, if someone can imagine it, someone else can make it happen visually. Creating a compelling plot and interesting characters is a lot harder, and it's here that 2012 fails miserably. Some of the actors (like Chiweter Ejiofor) try to give heartfelt performances, while others (Woody Harrelson) overact wildly. Regardless, each character is created from decades-old disaster movie conventions. There's not a single interesting or original thing about any of them. Since the outcome of every character is dictated by those conventions, we're never in suspense as to who will live or die, or who will end up together and who will be separated. Plot-wise, the situation is just as grim. Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser don't really deal with the Mayan prophecy, or even the psychological implications of facing the world's destruction. They are simply looking for ways to create set pieces that can be strung together.

The last act isn't really even disaster-related; Jackson and his family get trapped in a ship that's rapidly taking on water. Suddenly, 2012 turns into a low-rent version of Titanic, minus all the human interest. By this point, I had mentally checked out. With a running time of two hours and thirty-eight minutes, 2012 is too long by over an hour. At one point during this laborious final section, I looked at my watch and was horrified to discover that the movie still had 40 minutes to go. The next time I looked at my watch, I was convinced that it had to be over any time now. Turned out, only ten minutes had passed. So much hectic, frantic stuff has been crammed into this flick that it feels even longer than it actually is.

If you're a fan of the Cinema of Bombast, you're going to love 2012. Stuff sure does blow up big here. For me, all the film had going for it was some eye-popping special effects, but even those get ruined by Emmerich's desire to be as bombastic as possible. I mean, watching cities crumble is effective; watching the USS John F. Kennedy slam into the White House after being carried in on a monster tidal wave? You've got to be kidding me. I HATE this movie.

( 1/2 out of four)

2012 is rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language. The running time is 2 hours and 38 minutes.

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