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Film offers little beyond destruction

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By Eric Harris

"This is how the world ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper." Director Roland Emmerich would wholeheartedly disagree with T.S. Eliot on that point. Emmerich destroys the planet in the loudest possible way he can and when he’s showcasing the planet’s destruction, "2012" works and is entertaining.

When Emmerich tries to build characters and emotional connections - not so much.

"2012" takes the ending of the Mayan calendar (Dec. 21, 2012) and shows the doomsday scenario some people believe in - though most everything I read or watch concerning the date now tries to stray away from claiming the apocalypse is near.

If you’ve seen the previews, you know what you’re in for: mass destruction and a bunch of close calls for John Cusack and company. Cusack is trying to get his ex-wife, two kids and their stepfather across the world to China in the hopes of catching a ride on some kind of ship being built by the world powers. Of course he’s always just one step ahead of the spreading destruction. His escapes - especially one featuring a limo - are quite ridiculous, but they look great for the most part.

Emmerich, after "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow," has become quite good at staging destruction.

Destruction scenes are nice and all, but it helps if you actually care about the characters running away from the danger. I didn’t care one way or another about them, which is the problem I had with "The Day After Tomorrow," along with the awful CG wolves in that film. I normally don’t like John Cusack in anything he makes, so that didn’t help matters for me. It also might have something to do with the fact that I’ve seen all of this before. The characters seem like they didn’t make the cut for "Independence Day."

Of course, Cusack is divorced, but there still seems to be something between him and his ex (Amanda Peet). His son kind of hates him, but if the end of world can’t bring father and son together, what can?

Forming the government-science side of the characters are Chiwetel Ejiofor (a waste in such an effects-driven movie) as the scientist with a code of honor, Oliver Platt as the scientist without one, Thandie Newton as the president’s daughter and Danny Glover as the president. They’re all standard doomsday movie characters, but Woody Harrelson, as the conspiracy nut, stands out and makes his short-but-sweet scenes genuinely fun.

The rest of the film is a series of tearful goodbyes, missed opportunities to reconnect and characters saying variations of, "I think you should see this." Seriously, count how many times a character says a line like that - it’s insane. I wanted to yell at the screen, "Hey, just stay in the room with the guy because something is probably going to happen every five minutes!" I guess it’s all to be expected in a film like this and maybe the emotional scenes will actually work for some people, but it was all lost on me.

One thing that wasn’t expected, though, was the running time. This film lasts nearly two hours and 45 minutes. It basically pounds you into submission before letting you go with this formula: destruction, tearful goodbye, destruction, minor character death, destruction, tearful phone call, etc. It’s just tiring and I was glad to leave the theater.

I suppose "2012" never really had a chance with Emmerich behind it. He made a fun summer movie with "Independence Day" but his latest two films don’t allow for much fun. Comic relief or lighthearted moments just seem wrong in a movie featuring the deaths of billions of people. How can you root for a Russian trophy wife’s tiny dog to survive when you know people are dying all around? It just doesn’t work, but hey, it looks impressive and it’s all just a movie. It just made me want to watch "Independence Day" again. But it was better than "The Day After Tomorrow," so that’s something, I guess.

A Cannelton resident, Haris is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic. com.