An Oscar-caliber cast and dazzling visual effects can't rescue this formulaic disaster flick from a script flooded with generic dialogue and preposterous plot points. Watching "2012" is akin to starting your day with a bowl of Lucky Charms and a glass of chocolate milk -- nutrients and flavor are sacrificed for an impetuous and, ultimately, nauseating sugar rush.
Hollywood is fascinated with apocalyptic motion pictures -- and the box-office receipts they produce. Civilization has been threatened and/or exterminated in a variety of horrific ways: Alien invasion ("Independence Day"), zombie onslaught ("Dawn of the Dead"), weather run amok ("The Day After Tomorrow"), meteor strike ("Deep Impact"), rampant plague ("I Am Legend") and even aggressive vegetation ("The Happening").
Sadly, "2012" doesn't break new ground in the bloated genre. In fact, it is weaker than any of the aforementioned films (except for M. Night Shyamalan's hapless "Happening"), relying on a flashy concept rather than a compelling story.
American scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has made a startling discovery: The planet will see cataclysmic changes in the year 2012, fulfilling an ancient Mayan prophecy foretelling the end of days. Helmsley, government PR pro Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and U.S. President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) struggle with breaking the news to a terrified public as the world quickly tumbles into a destructive downward spiral. Powerful earthquakes rip apart entire cities, massive tidal waves barrel down on fleeing citizens and long-dormant volcanoes suddenly fill the sky with fire and ash.
Caught in the chaos are novelist/limo driver Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), his estranged wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), and their two young children. A serendipitous run-in with wacky conspiracy theorist Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) leads Jackson and his family on a dangerous trek to China, where enormous ships are waiting to rescue earth's brightest (and wealthiest) survivors. Jackson and his family must brave death-defying plane flights, ceaseless temblors and panicked masses to reach the next chapter in humanity's existence.
Cusack and Ejiofor are both excellent -- especially given the dearth of intelligent dialogue they have to work with -- and Platt and Harrelson serve up the film's requisite comic relief. The obviously pricey effects are impressive, such as when a tidal wave crashes on Washington, D.C., or Jackson's limo swerves through a crumbling Los Angeles. The filmmakers here spared no expense, and it shows.
There is something inherently ridiculous about using a (primarily) paranoia-inspired date and transforming it into a cinematic spectacle. The scientific explanations behind the catastrophes that rip through "2012" are about as believable (and logical) as a book by Dr. Seuss. The 160-minute run time overwhelms before the end credits roll, almost making an after-film Advil a downright necessity.
"2012" is, admittedly, a fun ride at times -- albeit a dumb and dizzy one.