Roland Emmerich's newest disaster epic 2012 is absolutely a bad film, and it would be a disservice for me to argue otherwise. At the same time, it's so deliciously trashy in its badness that it's actually a bit of fun if you go in ready to laugh; whether with the film or at it, I'd have a hard time saying, but a more delightfully bad movie hasn't been seen in all of 2009. Really, the only thing that keeps me being completely giddy about the picture is a punishing 158 minute running time that it comes not even close to earning.

In the grand tradition of such films, 2012 presents us with a right panoply of characters defined in the most reduced, simplistic terms possible. They're "the" characters, the kind who you expect to see on the poster or in the trailer with the actor's face and a description of his or her profession: John Cusack is The Writer! Chiwetel Ejiofor is The Scientist! Danny Glover is The President! I suspect that a sufficiently attentive fan of the genre - or even just somebody who saw Emmerich's previous forays into the field, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow - could accurately predict the whole script just by knowing the plot hook and a couple specific character types: so the world is ending, and a dad (Cusack) who is estranged from his kids has to reconcile with his ex-wife (Amanda Peet) and her new boyfriend (Tom McCarthy); a scientist with some U.S. agency or another (Ejiofor) is part of the team seeking to find any kind of solution to the problem, under the supervision of some high-level bureaucrat (Oliver Platt); there's a crazy conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson) who wants to be the first to die when shit goes down, and a venal Russian (Zlatko Buric), and a Tibetan family who know something about the super-secret international collaboration to build some kind of structures up in the Himalayan mountains that will, maybe, save a sample of Earth's culture and animal life (including humans).

There's a problem common to very nearly every single disaster movie I can name, and 2012 is no exception: the first act is a grinding chore, as we are introduced to a field of characters sketched as it were in crayon upon cardboard, so that when terrible thing start to happen, we will recognise the victims of the happening as human beings like ourselves, and not for example ambulatory table lamps. This is the kind of bad that isn't so bad it's good; it's the kind that's so bad it's boring as hell. Thankfully, 2012 is a good deal lighter in this department than Independence Day (co-scripted by Emmerich's then-partner, Dean Devlin; the two men were quite a fountain of unwatchable mediocrity back in the day. Godzilla, anyone?), and so a fairly healthy portion of that slab of running time is spent where we want it to be, focused squarely on devastation winding its way across the face of the planet. I will give the screenplay (which Emmerich co-wrote with Harlold Kloser, the composer of the film's soundtrack) some tiny credit for not playing out exactly the way I expected: the ex-wife's boyfriend isn't at all a dipshit prick, like the standard form calls for; nor did I correctly the manner of his death.

So, once 2012 switches on the destruction, it becomes a fun popcorn movie? Not exactly - rather, it goes from stupid and boring to stupid and wonderfully silly. Taking its cues from the the conspiracist "fact" that Mayan astronomers predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012, the movie posits that starting in 2009 (why, my God, that's right now!), it was found that the sun was spewing out more neutrinos than at any point in history, and they're awful, mutant neutrinos that are heating up the Earth's internal temperature. There's nothing that anybody can do about it, and in just a few years, total planetary collapse will occur. When it does, it starts with an earthquake in California that sends Los Angeles spinning merrily into the sea, before Yellowstone National Park explodes into a giant ash cloud that destroys most of the central United States. And that's when the crust starts shifting, causing tidal waves that eventually rise so high, they nearly drown Mt. Everest! All of this happens in August, by the way, not December, but Ejiofor does observe, numerous times, that things are going faster than his models predicted.

Boy oh boy, the number of loopy holes in science that are proudly marched in front of our admiring gaze in 2012! I would quite exhaust myself before I could name even a portion of them. It starts with the very beginning of the whole entire movie: if neutrinos had suddenly changed and raise the temperature of matter, it's unlikely that any human would care much about trying to save the planet; we'd all be too worried about how we were boiling to death from the inside. Of far greater delight is the film's vast number of "geology doesn't work that way" missteps, including Emmerich and Kloser's apparent inability to understand that the magnetic poles and the geographic poles are not the same thing, or the amusing conceit that the entire crust of the earth could shift by 25º in a few hours, and there'd be some earthquakes and large tsunamis, rather than the very surface of the planet shearing apart from the stress, forming a whole bucketful of new mountain ranges in the process (odd, because you think that the added possibility of rampant destruction would have appealed to the filmmakers). Also, it becomes quite apparent that neither writer understands how many feet are in a mile, where water goes during a tsunami - and though I will not give away the ending, in which land is found, the precise nature of that land is a real doozy.

In short, an Emmerich film; and for reasons I cannot fully understand myself, I found this particular entry in this particular oeuvre to be exceptionally amusing. The reels of CGI mayhem are not especially convincing (the L.A. sequence in particular), but they are pleasingly over-wrought and tawdrily exploitative: it's not enough to watch one city sink into the bowels of the earth, there must be two! And a car barely outrunning an earthquake is so exciting the once, let us see it again several more times! Let us then see a plane outrunning an earthquake! And just when you think it's all done and everybody is safe and snug, a whole new batch of crises poke their head up, extending the film that extra 30 minutes and giving Platt a chance to transition into the Designated Jerk Asshole, who like all member of that species actually says things that are smart and reasonable while the heroes mouth of platitudes and suggest courses of action that would get everybody killed in any situation that wasn't delicately contrived by a screenwriter, or gets praised by the whole bridge crew for fixing a problem that he caused in the first place; not that we're supposed to notice that kind of thing.

The whole thing is so gaudy, like most of its modern stablemates can't really achieve. Now, it's no The Swarm, for few movies indeed are; but it still has a kind of crap magic to 2012 that makes it far more enjoyable, even with a bloated length, than something as inert as Independence Day. Would that more movies had the fearlessness to be so uncompromisingly inane!