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Planet Earth has been going through a cinematic rough patch. It was littered with flesh eaters and �Zombieland.� It's rendered nearly lifeless in �The Road,� coming out soon. And this weekend we have the apocalypse. The movie is called �2012� and our critic Bob Mondello says an army of digitizers has arranged for the world to end not with a whimper but with a bang.

BOB MONDELLO: Say this for Roland Emmerich's latest movie, it is a disaster.

(Soundbite of movie, �2012�)

Mr. JOHN CUSACK (Actor): (As Jackson Curtis) No, no�

(Soundbite of scream)

MONDELLO: For maybe an hour of its running time, �2012� is a reasonably frantic catastrophe. But when the Earth isn't swallowing up whole cities or belching lava at low-flying planes, the poor actors keep opening their mouths, which is a problem. I mean, when they are screaming it's fine but sometimes they make the mistake of trying to explain what's going on.

(Soundbite of movie, �2012�)

Unidentified Man: This is going to sound crazy, but here's what (unintelligible)�

MONDELLO: California, you see, is falling apart, not from budget problems but from a shift in the Earth's crust caused - and the actors talk very fast when science comes up, so I may have misheard this - caused by solar flares heating up the Earth's core, or a weird alignment of the planets or maybe both. Whatever, the powers that be have somehow managed to hide this from everyone on Earth except for one Los Angeles limo driver. And lucky for him, the apocalypse doesn't affect cell phone coverage. So he can call his wife.

(Soundbite of movie, �2012�)

(Soundbite of phone ring)

Ms. AMANDA PEET (Actor): (As Kate Curtis) Hello.

Mr. CUSACK: (As Jackson Curtis) Kate, stop what you are doing.

Ms. PEET: (As Kate Curtis) Jackson.

Mr. CUSACK: (As Jackson Curtis) Listen to me. I've rented a plane, pack up the kids�

Ms. PEET: (As Kate Curtis) The governor just said we're fine now.

Mr. CUSACK: (As Jackson Curtis) When they tell you not to panic, that's when you run.

(Soundbite of car crash)

MONDELLO: From there, they start a mad scramble, seemingly to stay in the path of whatever new catastrophe nature throws their way. On the ground, they're chased by some surprisingly linear earthquakes. In the air, they dodge not just volcanic ash but flying subway trains. And then finally, after much digitized North American anguish, comes the worldwide deluge with waves crashing over the Himalayas. Director Roland Emmerich hasn't lost his flare for destroying major landmarks. Who else but this disaster-porn artiste would think to go bowling with St. Peter's dome?

Still, his insistence on both quoting and topping every disaster movie from �The Poseidon Adventure� to �Home Alone,� does make the end times seem pretty endless. There's perhaps 40 minutes of cheesy but spectacular special effects � the stuff you came for � and two additional hours of painfully idiotic plot. Trust me, your mind will wander as a lapdog is reunited with its master and the president's daughter finds true love with a rather full-of-himself geologist.

It's nice to see that none of these folks is overly troubled by the death of the planet's six billion other inhabitants. But then you won't be, either, which is sort of the magic of �2012.� By the time it's over, you'll feel like it is �2012,� and you'll have such a headache that it'd be kind of nice if the whole world went away.

I'm Bob Mondello.

NORRIS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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