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The ancient Mayan calendar, with its supposed prediction of a December 21, 2012 apocalypse, has long fascinated assorted fringe scholars, doomsday fetishists and George Noory acolytes. In 2012, the audacious new disaster epic from director Roland Emmerich (10,000 B.C., The Day After Tomorrow), it provides the inspiration for a $250 million orgy of destruction, the likes of which has never been seen on the big screen.

Give the Mayans credit: their chosen method for the planet's demise in 2012 is anything if not imaginative. The earth's core, we're told, is being heated to the point of instability by mutant neutrinos emitted by an increasingly malevolent sun. (The Mayans, a civilization that had little use for the wheel, having apparently identified the subatomic particle several millennia prior to the advent of quantum physics.) The initial signs of this phenomenon — sudden fissures on Earth's surface triggered by ruptures in its crust — are casually dismissed as harmless earthquakes by government officials.

Ahh, but they know better. In fact, the President (portrayed without a hint of irony by Danny Glover) and his advisers became hip to this neutrino business years ago, but chose not to inform the public for fear of the panic that might ensue. What they fail to realize, despite the pleadings of the film's requisite Lone Voice in the Wilderness (Chiwetel Ejiofor, bringing kind of a sad dignity to the proceedings), is that the lethal process is accelerating far faster than anyone could have predicted. Personifying the government's pompous intransigence in the face of obvious calamity is Oliver Platt, who plays the President's Secretary of Douchebaggery.

And what a gorgeous calamity it is. First come the super-earthquakes, which send Los Angeles plummeting into the ocean. Then the volcano beneath Yellowstone Park erupts in spectacular fashion, blanketing North America with a massive cloud of poisonous ash. Not to be left out of the eco-gangbang, killer tsunamis join the party, bombarding much of Asia and the Indian subcontinent with tidal waves the size of Mt. Everest. Emmerich's breathless CGI onslaught is truly unprecedented in its scope.

Beyond the awe-inspiring carnage, however, there's precious little to distinguish 2012. John Cusack leads a bloated cast that largely phones in a succession of forgettable roles. The conspiracy-themed script is painfully trite, rife with cliches and devoid of any and all subtlety. Its heavy-handed message, urging unity across class and cultural lines, feels superficial and soulless. Even the film's visual effects — doubtlessly 2012's greatest asset — occasionally come off as distractingly fake. The film even feigns a gallingly faux subversiveness, toppling Christian landmarks like the Vatican and the Christ the Redeemer statue in spectacular fashion, while avoiding Islamic monuments entirely. (We brought it up in our interview with Emmerich — click to hear his eye-opening response.)

All of this clocks in at a bewildering two hours and forty minutes, well beyond the acceptable length for such an empty-headed disaster flick.

You've been warned. rated this film 2 stars.