A nine-mile-wide comet threatens to destroy the Earth in director Ric Roman Waugh’s “Greenland” (*** OUT OF ****), an explosive mainstream disaster epic, with Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, and Scott Glenn. Mind you, Hollywood has served up similar fare with “Meteor” (1979) starring Sean Connery and then with “Armageddon” (1998) and later in “Deep Impact” (1998).

The major difference between “Greenland” and these films is mankind has no defense this time around against this cataclysm. Moreover, Waugh’s film focuses on the tragic human toll rather than gee-whiz CGI visual effects. Named after the country where mankind stands its last chance for survival in a complex of underground bunkers, “Greenland” seems far more realistic for its duck and cover tactics.

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Indeed, the apocalyptic menace of this comet is its ability to wipe out half of Europe, virtually all of Florida, and bury anybody in its path. Perhaps even scarier is the premise that the U.S. Government plans to save only a chosen few who can help rebuild the country in the likelihood of such a catastrophe.

Imagine the utter surprise of our protagonist, skyscraper construction engineer John Garrity (Gerard Butler of “300”) when he gets an Amber-like Presidential Alert on his iPhone. The recorded message notifies him that his wife Allison (Morena Baccarin of “Deadpool”), himself, and their son Nathan (newcomer Roger Dale Floy), have been scheduled for evacuation to a remote location. Waugh and scenarist Chris Sparling, who wrote the claustrophobic Ryan Reynolds thriller “Buried” (2010), have crafted a suspenseful, PG-13 rated, disaster saga which exposes the flaws in mankind’s best laid plans to salvage civilization.

John Garrity is shopping at the local supermarket when he receives his Presidential Alert. When the message is broadcast over their home television set, his estranged wife Allison is blow-drying her hair and doesn’t hear it. John and Allison are mending a broken marriage.

Later, when they host a neighborhood watch party with their closest friends, the Presidential Alert notice for them is rebroadcast. Predictably, the neighbors are baffled about why only the Garrity’s got the message. The Garrity’s are told to bring one bag and report to the nearest U.S. Air Force Base for immediate relocation.

Of course, we the audience have been warned ahead of time via radio & television news broadcasts about the impending arrival of a colossal comet—nicknamed after “2001” sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke—with the chances it will decimate mankind.

Visually, this ominous comet is shown from space entering Earth’s atmosphere and then depicted primarily in televised news reports about devastated metropolitan areas, with cities and suburbs wiped out. Rioting and looting have broken out where law and order has broken down. Pandemonium surrounds Warner Robbins AFB in Georgia where the Garrity’s are scheduled to embark on their flight.

Crowds besiege the gates as families are cleared to enter the base for departure. No sooner have the Garrity’s arrived and received their ID bracelets than Allison cannot find Nathan’s insulin kit. As it turns out, Nathan lost it when he took a towel out of his travel bag during their road trip. Desperately, John rushes back to retrieve it from their abandoned vehicle, but their plans are doomed before they realize it.

Allison learns the awful truth about Presidential Alert recipients. Homeland Security selected them based on their ‘essential job’ status and pristine health. Sadly, the government recognizes its own error in time to send Allison and Nathan back off the base.

Tragically, the Garrity’s find themselves hopelessly separated. Ignorant about this revelation, John returns with the insulin kit, but he cannot find Allison. As mounting numbers of people jostle the air base gates, the situation waxes even more chaotic.

Since she cannot contact John on her iPhone, Allison decides to take Nathan and hitchhike to her father’s ranch in Lexington, Tennessee. At the same time, John is ordered to board a cargo jet or be left behind. When he learns about the perfect health criterion for all Presidential Alert recipients, John demands to be let off the plane. Eventually, the enormous crowd at the gates overwhelms the MPs and stampede onto the base. Mass hysteria ensues.

Military police exchange fire with some armed intruders. The gunfire sparks aviation fuel, and a fireball explosion obliterates one giant cargo jet. Separated from John as she is, Allison relies mistakenly on the charity of a husband and wife she met while looting a pharmacy for Nathan’s insulin needs.

The couple turn on Allison at the sight of her bracelet, and kidnap Nathan. Meanwhile John finds Allison’s posted note on their SUV and sets out for his father-in-law’s ranch. Ralph Vento (Scott Glenn of “Training Day”) isn’t happy to see John without Allison and Nathan in tow.

Unlike “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact,” “Greenland” doesn’t seem half as outlandish or melodramatic. Waugh and Sparling adopt a more populist approach with their disaster picture. The news media provide all the facts we need to know about Clarke. John Garrity is just as puzzled as his neighbors were when Homeland Security notified him out of the blue about his status.

Later, when things go haywire, survival becomes a ‘live and let die’ scenario. Given bracelets to identify themselves, John and Allison learn these are double-edged swords. People are desperate enough to kill to get them, thinking they can impersonate their owners without arousing suspicion.

At one point, John climbs aboard a private truck with other less fortunate souls bound for Canada. One homicidal ruffian spots John’s bracelet and tries to separate it from him with a claw hammer.

Eventually, Allison and Nathan catch up with John. The suspense mounts as erratic flaming fragments of Clarke’s comet descend, like Mount Vesuvius belching incendiary fireballs on Pompeii in 79 AD. Nobody is safe. Since they cannot fly to Greenland aboard military transports, John must improvise and find a civilian plane that can transport his family. “Greenland” qualifies as an above-average, sometimes terrifying vision of an eventuality which nobody wants to imagine.

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