DVD Release Date:  March 2, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  November 13, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense disaster sequences and some language)
Genre:  Action/Adventure, Drama, Disaster
Run Time:  158 min.
Director:  Roland Emmerich
Actors:  John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Thomas McCarthy, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Liam James, Morgan Lily

Given his apparent love for saying sayonara to one of America's most defining landmarks, one has to assume that whenever writer/director Roland Emmerich can't possibly come up with another visual for one of his over-the-top disaster movies, he defaults back to what he knows best. After all, when in doubt, you can always blow up the White House again, right?

Yes, in case you were wondering, we do get to see the Oval Office fantastically destroyed yet again in 2012 (insert your favorite political joke here), albeit not as memorably as it was in say, Independence Day. But don't worry, if garish destruction is your thing, there are still plenty of don't-leave-your-seat-now thrills—like the sequence where earthquakes violently force California into the ocean for good, when Vegas comes toppling down like a house built with Lincoln Logs or the lush beauty of Hawaii basically erupts like a volcano, rendering it virtually unrecognizable.

And just in case that only picking on the U.S. didn't seem entirely fair, Emmerich is also an equal opportunity destroyer. Also notably lampooned in 2012 is the Vatican, a good chunk of India, Tibet and a giant cruise ship.

Oh yeah, and somewhere in between there's a threadbare story of a family we're supposed to care about as nearly everyone else on the planet, well, dies. Surprisingly enough, I've seen far worse (and less interesting) characters show up for Emmerich's disaster flicks (see GodzillaThe Day After Tomorrow and even the aforementioned Independence Day).

Instead of going with the requisite hunky guy of the moment (you know, serve up a little eye candy with all the terror) or the guy so resourceful and strong that you know he could save the planet somehow (someone like Bruce Willis or a bulked-up Will Smith immediately springs to mind), Emmerich opted for a bit of a casting curveball with everyman John Cusack, who'd at the very least offer a witty quip before everything went down.

With Cusack in the driver's seat, the lame bit of set-up is at least a little more tolerable. Like so many flicks in this particular genre, Cusack is the deadbeat dad, a failed novelist/limo driver who hasn't seen his kids, let alone spent time with them, in quite a while. In fact, his son Noah (Liam James) saves the title of "dad" for his mom's (Amanda Peet) live-in boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy) and refers to him as simply "Jackson" instead.

But all that's about to change with a fun camping trip to Yellowstone. Or so Jackson hopes. After coming face to face with his ex-wife and her plastic surgeon amour, a situation that makes everyone watching a bit uncomfortable, you know that as he eventually drives Noah and his daughter Lily (Morgan Lily) toward Wyoming (in his limo, no less) that something big is about to happen. And if you've seen the trailers, you already have a pretty good idea of what's ahead.

Just like The Day After Tomorrow, the first half of the story is filled with nature's first warning signs that all is not well on planet Earth. Thanks to a bit of science, not to mention something to do with the Mayan calendar, a government advisor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) gives the White House a head's up about the coming apocalypse. Unfortunately, the projected timetable for the end of days in 2012 arrives far sooner than anyone expects, which poses all sorts of moral dilemmas as government officials debate who lives and who dies.

To reveal much more of the plot would inevitably spoil the fun for anyone hoping to enjoy the festivities spoiler-free, so I won't say much more about that. For me, the real head-scratcher about 2012 was the reason it needed to be made in the first place.

Sure, the disaster movie format provides countless opportunities to show off the latest CGI trickery, and there are a handful of memorable moments here, but certainly not enough to justify the overly long running time. And of course, a movie like this, with all its grand speeches and sacrificial moments that reveal a softer side of humanity in all the malady, is sort of a Hallmark card reminder to make the most of our lives because we'll never know when they'll end. But that point has already been made ad nauseam, and far more effectively, in movies that lack all the pretense and clichés of 2012.

Really, in terms of making any new, grand statements about anything remotely debate-worthy, there just aren't any here. By the time you get to the grand hurrah of 2012, the movie's very silly final act, you're just sort of worn out. After all, if it wasn't for the sheer thrill of everything being blown to bits, there would be no reason to watch at all because ultimately, you're only caught up in the sheer frenzy of the events. And with no food for thought after the credits have rolled, all you're left hearing is a sub-par song from American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, which is actually sort of appropriate given the shallowness of what you've just been watching for the past two and a half hours.
 
CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking.
  • Language/Profanity:  A smattering of profanity including the PG-13 allotment of "f" words and a couple of instances where God's name is misused along with da—.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Noah tells his dad, who he calls by his first name at the beginning of the movie, not to show him where he and his mom had sex during the family camping trip at Yellowstone. Gordon suggests that he and Kate should make a baby. She encourages him not to touch the "merchandise" (a.k.a. her breasts) in the grocery store. Since Gordon is a plastic surgeon, he says that many of his patients actually pay for that privilege.
  • Violence:  This is where the bulk of the PG-13 rating comes from as the world comes crashing down by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. Thousands upon thousands (of mostly faceless) people die, and a few of the characters we've spent time with do, too. There are also intense sequences involving flying and driving under serious duress. Basically, if you've seen any big disaster movie, you'll know exactly what you're getting yourself into.
  • Spiritual References:  People are shown praying as the end nears. "Religious fanatics" hold signs about the end of days. The President of the United States (Danny Glover) is saying the Lord's Prayer, but is cut off halfway through when destruction strikes. References to John 3:16.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.