Don’t worry, be happy: The dog survives in 2012 even though billions of people don’t. The unfortunate masses — innocent as their four-legged fellow creatures but traditionally more expendable in disaster epics like this one — die in ways it takes Armageddon-movie master Roland Emmerich and a mighty army of CG artists to devise. For starters, Los Angeles cracks and falls into the sea, Las Vegas crumbles, Yellowstone National Park becomes a volcanic hellpit, India is devoured by a tsunami, and the Catholic faithful in Rome are buried under the rubble of their own magnificent church buildings. Cool! Oh, and also? A cruise ship on the high seas upends with a ? harrumphing glug-glug, sinking to join its colleagues the Poseidon and the Titanic.
God forgive me, but I enjoyed the nerve-racking silliness of this newest, loudest exercise in destruction. (And God help us all, now more than ever I think cities could crumble and oceans could rise.) Emmerich is, of course, an old hand at bangs, a manipulator who thinks whimpers are for sissies: Aliens tore up the place in Independence Day, an irradiated lizard stomped through Godzilla, global warming ruined everyone’s plans in The Day After Tomorrow, and you don’t want to know all the troubles the prehistoric hero known as D’Leh done seen in 10,000 BC. This time, as the story opens in 2009, the earth’s core is heating up and acting all wonky, alarming an earnest U.S. government geologist (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He rushes to inform the White House chief of staff (Oliver Platt), who rushes to inform the President (Danny Glover), who eventually confides the news? to his tremulous daughter (Thandie Newton). Cut to three years later, and a California Everyman named Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) picks up his cute son and daughter (Liam James and Morgan Lily) at the home of his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and her new guy (Tom McCarthy). Jackson takes the kids camping at Yellowstone, where he meets a useful mountaintop crazyman (Woody Harrelson) who predicts the end of days.
The good news: Thanks to the crazyman, when the end of days begins to make itself known, the Curtis family (plus the ex-wife’s new guy) are able to stay one step ahead of the abyss. This postnuclear clan has a terrific ability to drive on roads that cave in behind them, and fly (in half-borrowed, half-skyjacked airplanes) between toppling buildings, bridges, mountains, and fireballs. Enthusiasts of websites involving the Mayans’ apocalyptic predictions are welcome to join enthusiasts of websites involving planetary instability to discuss the facts behind this chaotic fiction; biblical scholars are welcome to chime in on the meteorological conditions that coincided with the launch of Noah’s Ark. Me, I’m more charmed by the now-classical way in which Emmerich uses scenes with human interest — you know, the introduction of a handful of characters we care about — to offset the sense-battering showpiece action sequences. (Those are usually the ”feelings” scenes in which we laugh with nervous relief at the familiarity of human puniness.) Just ask Steven Spielberg: There’s nothing like imminent destruction on a world scale to make a father want to heal a broken family.
Cusack, with his one-of-the-guys face and his nice way with child actors, does creditable work as an Average American Dad trying to put things right. Of course, Emmerich (and his co-writer, Harald Kloser, who also ? co-scripted 10,000 BC) is never one for subtlety. Average Dad’s homegrown virtues are ?contrasted with the thick-lipped, fat-bellied crudity and obscene wealth of a Russian oligarch (Zlatko Buric) looking out for his own two young sons. Meanwhile, as Commander-in-Chief (in the idealized mode of 24‘s President David Palmer), Danny Glover is a good father to the country and his own daughter; however, we know his chief of staff is a cold SOB because he’s distant from his aged mother.
As for Ejiofor’s geologist, he gets to tell his dad he loves him before the end draws nigh. Which, in this rock-solid disaster-pic ? formula, makes him the perfect character to deliver the climactic speech that unites mankind. Well, it’s either him or the dog. B