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Everyone talks about the end of the world, but nobody does anything about it. Except, perhaps, profit by talking about it, and thus it's no stretch to say that everyone will flock to see 2012. It's less a movie than a cultural event, and up front let me state that Roland Emmerich has finally made a movie that I didn't hate. That's because while watching the movie I was already formulating different approaches to take with this review.

1. The Romantic Comedy
By now, Emmerich has the 21st Century Rom-Com formula down pat. Take one shabby but likable hero (John Cusack). Make sure that he's had his chance with the girl of his dreams, maybe even married her and had a couple of kids. But of course, he never really focused on what was important in life, shutting them out in order to pursue other dreams, in this case writing a novel called Farewell, Atlantis which sold less than 500 copies.

Of course, his wife Kate (Amanda Peet) moved on, finding a new boyfriend who's nice, financially successful and bland. Now Jackson (Cusack) sleeps on his couch, eats a lot of cereal and drives a limousine. But he's still got a twinkle in his eye, and we're just rooting for these crazy kids to get back in touch with what love's all about.

While on a trip to Yellowstone with his kids, Jackson picks up a wacky sidekick, a conspiracy nut named Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) who helps Jackson wake up to the truth. And when the Earth starts to come to an end, well, hilarious hijinks ensue.

John, John - you don't need to wait for California to sink into the ocean. All you had to do was stand outside Kate's house with a boombox playing "In Your Eyes." She'd have melted without that magma spewing up through the streets. Come on, man. We learned this from you.

Oh, and it turns out that Jackson's novel is really good, and so what if it sold less than 500 copies? By the end of the movie, that means that almost 10% of the remaining population will have read it! Let's see Oprah bring you that kind of success, Stephen King!

2. 2012: The Videogame
You start out as Jackson Curtis, part-time stuntdriver and full-time dad.

First Level: You have your town car, and after receiving radio instructions from your guide in the game Charlie Frost, you have to negotiate your way from the Burbank airport to your ex-wife's house, pick up your family and your wife's nerdy new boyfriend, and then weave through traffic and collapsing freeway overpasses while driving faster than the angry Crack in the Earth can follow you. But be careful - it's tricky and knows exactly where you're headed!

Second Level: Turns out that nerdy boyfriend Gordon is a pilot! Get behind the controls of a light two-engine plane and take off before the entire airport falls into the sea! Instead of actually ascending, you get extra points for being able to buzz through collapsing buildings, circling around and around to ensure you get the maximum view of the devastation.

Third Level: You're Jackson again, this time driving Charlie Frost's Winnebago and dodging fireballs and pieces of Yellowstone National Park after it explodes in a mushroom cloud! Boy, you'd better hope Charlie was able to hide in a refrigerator; you're going to need him and his map to the spaceship later in the game!

Fourth Level: Gordon takes the plane and does pretty much the same as Jackson in the third level, just in the air. This is where the game play fails a little bit, and I noticed that I wasn't actually holding a controller at any point.

Fifth Level: Gordon gains a handsome Russian co-pilot and upgrades to a huge cargo plane full of cars for the Las Vegas Auto Show! (Guess what might happen with Jackson in the Sixth Level!) Now you have to practically fly blind through dust clouds, and find the remaining land-masses after they've shifted over one thousand miles!

Let's leave the last couple of challenges as a surprise, but trust me, the vehicles only get bigger and slower, until finally you have to fight the big boss: Mount Everest.

Still, not a bad videogame, though I couldn't complete the side mission of finding John Cusack's hidden artistic integrity.

2012 The Actual Review

It's formulaic, but that can't just be laid at the feet of Emmerich. All disaster movies follow a certain template, including a large cast of characters with little subplots that don't really go anywhere but provide human drama to contrast against the scale of over one and a half billion people dying.

Not that you see any suffering; this is the kind of movie where you can lose the entire state of California and laugh, but the second the damned yappy dog gets endangered, everybody's on the edge of their seat. Actually, the first time this happens it's not even a dog; it's a chicken about to be killed for food. And the audience gasped in terror.

So a lot of really good if not popular actors get stuck in terrible situations. Danny Glover appears as the President of the United States, a man of great integrity who really does have a heroic arc in this film, except it starts becoming funny as he avoids disaster after disaster, each of which gets bigger and bigger.

Sure, it's the end of the world as we know it, but in all this destruction, every now and then you have to laugh and say "come on! Could these people catch just one tiny break? Maybe stop and have a Twinkie?"

Yet Emmerich has clearly gotten better as a storyteller. He's still stuck with a linear sense of the disaster; certainly being chased by a crack in the Earth - and I mean that it does seem as if the crack is specifically chasing John Cusack - is one way of topping The Day After Tomorrow's frantic run through a library to escape the unstoppable cold air. And when that crack shows up in Las Vegas - oh, no! It found him!

However, the story itself follows a kind of loopy logic in its pseudo-science, and about half-way through I realized I'd bought into the central premise as to what would happen if the world governments got wind of a coming apocalypse. I kept laughing at the sheer over the top nature of it all, and not once did I actually feel anything for any of the characters, but I could feel my ironic detachment crumbling like the Washington Monument in Act Two.

One exception to my lack of feeling for the characters: Harrelson as Charlie Frost. Twenty years ago, there's no way I would have pegged Harrelson as an actor who makes every project he's in watchable, but 2012 absolutely comes alive in a very different way every moment that guy is onscreen. Emmerich is not an actor's director, and Woody Harrelson doesn't need a good director to still be good. Everyone else, including the usually excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, turns in performances that at least work, but only Harrelson really works at making his performance interesting.

2012 isn't the worst film of the year, surprisingly not even by a long shot. I'm probably more surprised than anyone to find myself saying that you might actually like it, though not for the reasons Emmerich wished you would.

Derek McCaw

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