John Cusack is an interesting actor, and if his movies are not always up to his best — among them “Say Anything” (1989) and “High Fidelity” (2000) — they are at least watchable.
That he has chosen to star in Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster fantasy, the laughably overwrought “2012,” does no damage to his credibility and reaffirms his talent for bringing heft to an otherwise weightless exercise.
Emmerich, you may recall, trashed some of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, including the White House, in 1996’s “Independence Day,” and later threatened the Northern Hemisphere with a second Ice Age in 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow.”
He continues his assault here — smashing the Sistine Chapel, Rio de Janeiro’s statue of Christ the Redeemer and Yellowstone Park — while once again razing the president’s roof.
There’s cultural symbolism in the movie’s choice of targets, albeit of the most obvious kind: When the apocalypse strikes, as it does so colorfully in “2012,” it will affect us all, as disaster does not discriminate.
By way of justifying the carnage, Emmerich invokes the popular myth of the Mayan calendar, whose “end date” has long been misinterpreted as evidence of man’s imminent doom. Better evidence might be movies like “2012.”
Emmerich, who co-wrote the movie, has treated us to all manner of natural catastrophe in the past, but this latest is a doozy. The sun’s neutrinos have caused nuclear reactions on Earth and whole cities are tumbling into the sea. But the world can breathe easy, sort of — America is on the case.
Give the German-born director credit for knowing where his bread is buttered. As in “Independence Day,” the heroes here are mostly true-blue Yanks, from our president (Danny Glover), who oozes nobility, to the geologist (Chiwetel Ejiofor of “Redbelt”) who begs fellow survivors not to lose their humanity.
In Emmerich’s defense, he has assembled an excellent cast to complement the visual effects, which are vivid if not terribly innovative. Watching Los Angeles disintegrate is exciting, and not just for Giants fans.
But by the time he deep-sixes the hilltop sanctuary of Tibetan monks, we’ve seen more than enough demolition.
I suppose it’s missing the point to note that the patriotism on display in “2012” is embarrassingly shallow, as are Emmerich’s dutiful genuflections to the value of faith (billions pray, only a few thousand are saved). This is not a movie of ideas, but one of visceral thrills. And on that level it’s virtually failproof, though hardly inspired.
Starring: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Running time: 2 hours 38 minutes