"Torture porn" is a phrase that (unfortunately) was coined to describe explicitly gory horror films, ones that (allegedly) invite you to leer, linger and drool over the worst sort of atrocities imaginable. It only seems fair, then, that I semi-coin the phrase "disaster porn" to describe Roland Emmerich's latest cinematic gargantuan: 2012. I feel it's worth mentioning that A) I don't believe that Roland Emmerich has ever made a good film, but B) I grew up with a deep and passionate love for the best of Irwin Allen's films. (Mostly just The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, really, but I've seen 'em all.) So if I can get behind the mega-bombastic, ultra-plastic, ensemble cast body-count lunacy of Irwin Allen's epics, then why am I so repulsed by Roland Emmerich's films?
I have no idea. Ask a psychiatrist. All I know is that 2012 is, far and away, the stupidest movie of the year. And, don't forget, this is a year that's offered us Wolverine and Transformers 2. It's not the 8 or 9 massive sequences of non-stop geological carnage that had me rolling my eyes skyward every 19 seconds. No, that footage is actually pretty nifty to look at, precisely as nifty as it would have been as an interstitial scene from an apocalyptic video game or rock video. As a huge fan of the artistry of special effects, I was amazed by the scenes of giant things cracking and falling apart. Dazzled, even. And then bored. And then irritated, because I'd just realized that the flick had 104 minutes left to go.
Here's the plot: The world is about to end, thanks to some wacky new brand of solar flares. Scattered in between the OMG RIO DE JANIERO JUST WENT KPOW!! footage is a misshapen glob of connective tissue: John Cusack is a heroic dad; Chiwetel Ejiofor is a scientist nobody listens to; Oliver Platt is an officious politician; Woody Harrelson is a wild-eyed lunatic; Danny Glover is the noble President ... I'll wake you when any of this gets interesting. Each of the overpoweringly generic characters wanders around dodging boulders and such, tossing out flat dialog in bored tones AND THEN A BOAT CAPSIZES AND EXPLODES!
(True story: The characters in this film come into contact through coincidence so many times that I was convinced we'd be seeing a surprise ending in which an invisible alien was actually "drawing" the characters together. Fully convinced. That ending would have explained a lot.)
And that's what I find most distasteful about 2012: Not its moronic plot contrivances or head-slap-worthy coincidences; not its lumbering pace and overlong running time or its stock characters and insipid dialog ... it's the tone, really. Any by that I mean it's schizophrenic to the point of being maddeningly obnoxious. Example: In one scene we're asked to look in (awe? terror? glee?) as millions of people fall to a screaming death, and in the next scene ... hell, we're in the middle of a spoof movie. Frank Drebin could walk through any of the "talk scenes" and he'd seem right at home. Emmerich wavers between shocking, silly, and maudlin like a toddler would fingerpaint with red, yellow, and blue.
You could "go along with the ride" and play along with the whole "apocalypse NOW NOW" silliness of the affair if the rest of the movie weren't so irretrievably stupid. And if the flick is actually meant to be played for laughs, then that only serves to indicate how little Emmerich knows about comedy. And, whether it means to be or not, 2012 is in every way a comedy. A huge, sweaty, loud, and very unfunny one.
Alternately eye-popping, brain-bruising, and certifiably insipid, 2012 will absolutely appeal to anyone who enjoys watching films ironically. To anyone else, it will feel like nothing more than a huge waste of cash. $260 million of Sony's, and at least $20 of yours. But if anyone wants to collect all the "ooh, ahh" moments of 2012 and make a 19-minute version of the film, I'd definitely check it out.