Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
There’s something oddly festive about the disaster movie genre. Maybe it’s that flooded ballroom scene from 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure.” Remember when the water spills in violently, and desperate passengers, seeking safety, attempt to cling to a tall, tinsel covered Christmas tree? Spoiler: they don’t make it.
Every holiday, disaster films make the television, now streaming, rounds. The genre features natural disasters like Charlton Heston avoiding a cracking earth in 1974’s “Earthquake,” or Steve McQueen and Paul Newman fighting for top billing as they try to put out a skyscraper fire in the human-made disaster epic “The Towering Inferno.”
Rarely do these movies find a magical balance between loud, destructive, messy special effects and powerful story-telling. It’s the effects that typically take over, with James Cameron’s marvelous “Titanic” almost delivering the perfect package. And let’s be honest, who can forget when the famed ocean liner sinks as the violins play? Can you ever get that Celine Dion power ballad out of your head? “My heart will…”
The disaster genre goes on this weekend with Gerard “this is Sparta” Butler spiriting his family cross country during a meteor strike that may end humanity. We’re the dinosaurs this time around as the planet killer takes aim at Europe and Africa. Butler plays John Garrity, an architect who is estranged from his wife, Allison (“Deadpool’s” Morena Baccarin). All it takes is a good world-ending event to cause the couple to get over their differences.
When the first round of rocks touches down, random people worldwide begin to get special notices on their phones. John and his family have been selected to escape to an undisclosed location. In a bit of movie magic, the Garrity family's personal notice even takes over their television set. Because this event occurs during a subdivision party, not all the neighbors are happy being passed over. This attitude proves to be divisive and dangerous as the Garrity’s try to make their way to, you guessed it, Greenland.
Although not mentioned in the film, I kept thinking, “Greenland, yeah, I’ve heard of the place, isn’t that the island that Trump tried to buy from Denmark?” No matter, politics play little role in the narrative here. And the idea that Greenland is the place to go is more of a cinematic MacGuffin than a salient plot point.
So, the race is on. And the Garrity family isn’t alone. Roads clog, and airports are overrun. Will John be able to get his wife and young son to safety? Will it even matter? “Greenland” follows a stripped-down natural disaster movie playbook. We don’t get an ensemble, star-studded cast that works together and rise to the occasion; the Garritys here are mostly on their own.
And “Greenland’s” director, Ric Roman Waugh, a stunt coordinator turned filmmaker, who worked with Butler on “Angel Has Fallen,” smartly doesn’t turn his star into an action superhero. The action sequences prove to be lower key and somewhat gritty. And despite the more restrained disaster elements, there’s enough of the familiar world-in-peril tension to interest fans of the genre.
Of course, like all movies of this ilk, you may find yourself frustrated with the boneheaded decisions of the characters. And the ridiculous string of contrived coincidences and fortuitous conveniences will be hard to accept. And while “Greenland” isn’t a festive viewing experience, I’ll bet that the end of the world concept will, in a small way, help viewers escape from real world-changing realities.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com