Gerard Butler and Nicolas Cage have something in common.
Both stars are so renowned for their cinematic tics we’ve come to expect them.
For Cage, that means playing an exaggerated version of himself -- literally. Butler also leans into his persona by starring in generic romps like “[Fill in the Blank] Has Fallen” and “Den of Thieves.”
Not this time, though.
Butler’s “Greenland” offers something different, but his fans may long for the ol’ swagger long before the respectable but tame thriller wraps.
Butler plays John Garrity, a building contractor (don’t laugh) trying to work though a trial separation with his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin). Their split gets pushed aside when the news severely underestimates the severity of an approaching comet storm.
Dubbed Clarke, the series of space projectiles doesn’t burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere. It hits earth -- hard. That leaves John and Allison scrambling to protect their young son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), from the worst of humanity in crisis.
“Greenland” could have leaned harder into the government conspiracy at the heart of the story. Someone clearly knew Clarke wasn’t just something to chat about on social media. It’s why John got a message asking him to bring his family, and his particular set of architectural skills, to a government rendezvous point.
Nor does the film transform John into another Butler-sized action hero. His character is just an overwhelmed dad and husband, and when John needs to throw down the results aren’t what we expect.
Boy, is that refreshing.
“Greenland” has its share of implausible moments, but it’s not as guffaw-inducing as your average Roland Emmerich disaster. Director Ric Roman Waugh (“Snitch,” “Angel Has Fallen”) has much less money to burn, for starters, so he keeps the focus tight on John and Allison.
That pushes disaster movie tropes mostly out of the frame. Mostly. So why isn’t “Greenland” more entertaining?
John’s clan is in near constant danger, but what we process is more dread than excitement. A far better example of the “family in peril” genre came with the grossly unsung “No Escape.”
Here, the action is modest at best and so is the entertainment level. You can appreciate the sober storytelling and how dedicated these parents are to their child. You won’t get anywhere near the edge of your seat, though.
The screenplay, while never embarrassing, doesn’t allow the kind of character development to offset its flaws. A late appearance by Scott Glenn offers hope, but it never materializes. Glenn is there to move the plot along, not prick our emotions.
Still, “Greenland” offers a different side to Butler. He’s not a great actor, but he captures the panic and love a father has for his family. Maybe it’s his way of saying he won’t be playing an exaggerated version of himself anytime soon.
HiT or Miss: “Greenland” is both smarter and smaller than you expect, but the end-of-the-world thriller lacks the necessary sizzle.