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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.
. "2012"

The realism of CGI effects as employed here in such grand scope and detail, makes such disaster films as "Poseidon" a country picnic without ants. To be the big guy on this block, all you've got to do is spend the bucks. Some $22 million (2006 dollars) went into the shipwreck tale; director Roland Emerrich, on the other fistful, held the reins on an expediture of almost 10 times that to expand the vessel of disaster: the planet itself.

But, the outline for these things is pretty much the same, and it's not just a matter of size and artistry. How well the characters involved with the destruction are written and cast is the primary key to its success or failure. In this area, "2012" is all right, but not so very humanizing, despite effects that pretty much puts all previous disaster movies, including the flood of post-apocalypse tales that keep coming ("The Road," "The Book of Eli") to shame. If this is a presage of things to come in the studio and in the directorial contest for your attention, it may require a new name for the genre. Cataclysm movies, for example.

Fact is, if the writers of these things could only figure out a way to avoid the problem of predictability, they'd be a step ahead, right off. Not in terms of the outcome of the disaster, that is, but in the functions and development of the roles. Consider that when critically important scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) becomes aware of the processes that are melting the earth's core, and goes to the White House to lay it on the pres (Danny Glover as Commander-in-Chief Thomas Wilson), Helmsley's first sighting of the fetching first daughter Laura immediately sets a strain of romance into the procedings. She may be a smart lady, and this comes off as elitist standoffishness, but there's no doubts about how these events are going to warm her up to her obvious amorata.

But the central character, the guy who represents us, is also flawed, in fairly familiar ways. Where have we met this character who is a divorced loner after screwing up his marriage to his gorgeous ex-wife? This cliche' came from the pens of the director, Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow") and screenwriter Harald Kloser, which forces our main man in the drama. Jackson Curtis (somehow an ill-befitting moniker for Cusack), has to deal with divorce from lens-loving Kate (Amanda Peet), her new husband, and his two kids' (Liam James and cutie Morgan Lily as Noah and Lilly) who love the man slightly more than they do their real dad. About all he can really call his own, these days, is his book about Atlantis (please!) and a job as a limo driver for a big (in every sense) Russian.

In fact, his boss Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric), is one of the most animated parts in the movie, providing some original bombast from an outsized industrialist ready to spend his fortune, and more, to save his family. And, since the movie is global in nature, an international figure with a culturally very different perspective, can't do the receipts any harm. You can't say any other character is as much fun, which includes his arrogant offsprings.

Strictly in the standard realm is Glover's tediously glum portrayal of the man in the oval office, as though he became mesmerized by the weight he was entrusted with (an oft-repeated amateurish mistake). What he decides to do in the face of certain slaughter is the height of the movie's infantile concepts. Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) doesn't do much better as a guy who isn't exactly a villain but the bearer of freak-out news and wrong-headed decisions.

Into this miasma of characters comes a simulation of an ostentatious right-wing nutjob named Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) who broadcasts his loony flower-child/tea party ideas to his like-minded neighbors within listening distance.

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The effects are consistently awesome, starting with the first signs of the developing process of world annihilation: the cracking sidewalks, the sudden gaping hole through the middle of your food market (the dire significance of which Kate completely misjudges), thence to all hell breaking loose as our heroes dodge all manner of upheaval and shrapnel in a totally preposterous derby of death.

The showing of death itself is strictly avoided, as though anything gory would compromise the needs of the marketplace. Emmerich and his studio are taking no chances with you or your kids' gross-out and negative word-of-mouth. This is not, they seem to be saying, a horror pic!

Sound and sound editing are as well done as the spectacular effects, which are good, indeed.

This is a blockbuster that owes much to the international audience whose countries are included as part of the global obliteration. You can just visualize the magnet this film is for the peoples of remote, far-flung places, anxious to see how the American geniuses depicted their mountains and edifices falling apart and disappearing into the molten gloop. The strongest appeal going for this movie is the "this I have to see" factor.

If only the story had the same kind of groove going as the effects. Besides the storytelling mediocrity that's so common to the genre, the timeline sequencing between what the humans are doing and what's brewing in the core of the planet is awkward, at best. The harrowing escapes while everything is busting loose is just plain absurd.

And, the last thing you want to do is invite ennui by increasing such problems of credulity by going a minute over two hours! Fortunately, watching this two and a half hour saga in Blu-ray makes it possible to split it up should your patience or attention span be tested.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Morgan Lily and John Cusack
Father and daughter fleeing from disaster.

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