2012 ★½

California had a gubernatorial election in 2010. Arnold Schwarzenegger, having served two terms, was ineligible for reelection. And yet, somehow, there's a scene in 2012, set in the titular year, where the governor of California calls a press conference, and sure enough, he's a giant dude with a thick Austrian accent. Yes, it's a small goof in an epically long, epically stupid movie riddled with jaw-dropping distortions of physics, astronomy and common sense, but it's emblematic of the slapdash, kitchen sink approach of German schlockmeister Roland Emmerich, or, as I like to think of him, Uwe Boll with a 200 million dollar budget.

Everything, literally everything, about this movie is ridiculous: the premise that the Mayans predicted that the world would end in 2012, the idea that the sun starts emitting "mutated" neutrinos that heat up the earth's core (who knew neutrinos had DNA?), the fact that a movie in which 99.9999% of the world's population dies horribly in volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis spends most of its running time detailing the petty relationship issues of science fiction author John Cusack and his estranged wife and children. And, of course, the continual and downright laughable defiance of basic plausibility. The first two hours of this seemingly endless movie feature three (THREE!) separate instances of an airplane taking off just in time to avoid, in turn, a massive earthquake, a supervolcanic eruption, and a massive cloud of ash. It's all part of Roland Emmerich's mission to film people outrunning the four elemental forces in his movies. First, Air Force One narrowly escapes the incineration of Washington D.C. in Independence Day (fire, natch), then Jake Gyllenhaal outruns a burst of supercold air in The Day After Tomorrow (wind), and now, in 2012, John Cusack's plane takes off just as California splits in half and sinks into the ocean (earth!). For the life of me, I can't figure out why the hell none of these close-call take-offs couldn't have dodged one of the film's many massive tidal waves. I guess Emmerich is adhering to a consistent One Element Per Film rule in order to make it more of a challenge for himself.

Of course, such trifling concerns are beside the point when dealing with a gigantic piece of nihilistic spectacle like this. The only real question worth asking is: is it a reasonably good time? On that score, 2012 delivers, like most Roland Emmerich movies. It's entertaining mostly because of the ridiculousness and the absurdity and the brain-bending continuity errors. Like a buttoned-down Michael Bay, Emmerich makes movies where the majority of the fun is in seeing how far the filmmakers will go to insult your intelligence as a viewer, and how many hundreds of millions of dollars of special effects wizardry they'll spend to do it. In this case, there's plenty of fun to be had, and even though most of the big disaster set-pieces are cribbed from other Emmerich (and James Cameron) movies, there's still a mad grandeur to unleashing every megadeath-causing havoc on the planet's landmarks all at once. As usual, the fact that these spectacles of mayhem are meant to represent the near extinction of the human race, including the horrifying deaths of almost every person (not to mention animal) on earth is given little consideration. Josef Stalin supposedly said, "one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic." Roland Emmerich might have added "and six billion deaths is a 65 million dollar opening weekend."