My recent absence from our humble home for about a week necessitated a certain amount of ceremony in my last weekend, a weekend also notable for an uncommon lack of work. There were several enticing options, but few with as storied and revered a history within our household as that mildly masochistic endurance test that is given the simple moniker “Bad Movie Night.”
Beyond the normal enticements linked to such an evening, there was the very recent DVD release of a film that practically cried out for inclusion in a revelry in rottenness, a film so patently ludicrous on the very surface of it that it inspired an ingeniously scathing remixed trailer months before its release. So I went down the local video rental emporium and picked up a copy of 2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009). It has everything we could want for freewheeling mockery: batshit insane mayhem linked together with the thinnest of plots, pat character conflicts that inspire eye-rolling disbelief, and, maybe best of all, a collection of talented actors stuck in the middle of the mess, providing the pleasure of figuring out whether they approach their slumming with grouchy desperation, wonderfully whacked out make-the-best-of-it energy, or an almost touching confused earnestness. Besides the hyper-linked actors in the previous sentence, there’s also Oliver Platt, bringing the years and years of unjustly dashed career respect to bear on everyone around him with a performance of colossal hostility.
The film revolves around an end of the world scenario involving solar flares and shifting poles and generally anything else that can be cooked up to justify massive destruction of major cities and identifiable landmarks. It’s pure disaster porn with dopey domestic drama to bridge the gaps between effects set pieces because Emmerich hasn’t yet gotten quite so shameless that he’ll simply stitch together the only scenes anyone really cares about to make some sort of pop trash version of Koyaanisqatsi. If only he would. It would probably make the same amount of money at the box office, and the bizarro pride it would generate might help everyone sleep a little better at night on their mattresses stuffed with dirty cash.
We needed a companion piece to 2012. “Doomed world” seemed the right theme to pursue. That’s one good circle to start with when building a Venn diagram of Bad Movie Nights. Another useful circle is labeled “Nicolas Cage.” We overlapped those and found Knowing (Alex Proyas, 2009) nestled nicely in the middle. Perhaps this was a bit presumptuous given that the film was deemed one of the “Top Ten Mainstream Films” of last year by the most important and influential film critic of his generation, but our judgment in including it in such a night proved sound. The film is a cataclysmic array of achingly eerie portentousness and anguished anxiety with Cage in the sort of overdrive that only he can operate in, rushing around and raging at foolishly blind skeptics as if he just realized that he and his fellow humans are the target ingredients for a interstellar cookbook.
Instead of that fabled tome, Cage’s character is sent careening into grim Pop O Matic calisthenics by a page full of numbers unearthed with a time capsule at his son’s elementary school. It was put there decades earlier by a dour little girl who was especially good at standing creepily at the edge of celebrations while holding a forlorn balloon. It’s not a widely transferable skill, but it has its uses. Turns out that she also had an unfortunate talent for prognostication as her scrawled digits that look like something torn free from one of Charles Crumb’s notebooks correctly predicted many of the deadly disasters that would follow. In the context of the film, this opens up the possibility for some digitally drawn destruction. It also leads into a series of twists so ridiculous that they are, to be fair, pretty unexpected. Although there’s a chance that they were telegraphed more than I believe, since the disc proved be somewhat glitchy in our player, causing us to miss a small chunk of the middle of the movie. Rather than concern over lost elements or the potential resulting confusion, the presence of an unwatchable passage was like an act of mercy. It almost made me want to head back to the rental place and surreptitiously scrape my incisors across the playable surfaces of the other copies of Knowing as my own act of kindness.
If that makes the film sound hopelessly dreadful then I’ve described it correctly. Luckily, that’s just what we were hoping for.
(Posted simultaneously to “Jelly-Town!”)