Token Apoca-Drama Slips Through Cracks

How long does it take to destroy the world? According to director Roland Emmerich, a yawninducing two hours and 40 minutes. That’s right: The brave soul who stamped his name on “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” is back to cleanse the planet all over again — this time, with $250 million worth of gleaming vengeance.

While it’s clear that the lump sum went in to some outrageous special effects — including the collapse of the Vatican, a squashed White House and hundreds of crumbling skyscrapers that all too closely resemble the Twin Towers — it’s also clear that very little was spent on the feeble cause of a casting call or halfway-decent screenwriter.

Within the first few minutes, we meet Adrian (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a paranoid geologist who has uncovered what he believes to be the first sign of the end of the world. Get ready for a solid slew of panicked “My God! I thought we’d have more time!” cries, and — of course — the unforgettable “This is a suicide mission!”

After some more ingenious one-liners and a mouthful of indecipherable pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, we come to a shaky semi-understanding that the earth is going to shit because of something called “crust displacement,” which somehow correlates with the Mayan doomsday prediction for December 21, 2012.

While Adrian breaks the news to the U.S. president (Danny Glover), we are introduced to Jackson (a brooding John Cusack), failed author and father whose struggle to reconnect with his eternally disappointed children is drawn out painfully to the end credits. With a nagging ex (Amanda Peet) ready to nail him for his inadequacies and her new man for competition, the last thing Jackson needs is a cataclysmic emergency to worry about — but Cusack has never been too lucky.

It’s not long before earthquakes spider-web the nation, and civilization as we know it literally falls through the cracks. (Cue homeless man holding “Repent, the end is near” sign.)

Woody Harrelson, as the archetypal googlyeyed hippie who knew it all along, forewarns Jackson about his family’s impending doom if they fail to secure a spot on a government-funded Noah’s Ark operation: three massive zeppelin-looking ships designed to carry the feds (and the rich) to safety.

Oops! Did I give away too much? Oh well. After a side-glance at the trailer, you can guess this film’s not exactly groundbreaking — no pun intended — given the soaring rates of second-string actors and explosions.

Like any other apocalypse narrative, you’ve got the quintessential father-son sap, the crazed scientist with the answers, the average Joe who just happens to know how to fly a plane, the limo that can hop crevices, the hand that clutches the edge of the cliff just in time, the dramatic “West Wing” DC shots, and the human race bowing in prayer as a tsunami engulfs the land. Essentially, Emmerich’s latest is a compilation of every high-grossing disaster movie you’ve ever seen.

But hey, if think you can handle dude saying, “I feel like something is pulling us apart” to his girlfriend just as the ground splits at their feet, all the power to you.

Starring John Cusack, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet & Woody Harrelson
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Rated PG-13
1 star