The Day After Tomorrow (PG-13)
20th Century Fox
The plots of disaster films are about as relevant and lovingly rendered as those of their porno cousins. Not that this critic has ever deigned to engage with any of the latter, but from what he's been told, both genres offer scripts that are little more than excuses to showcase "action" of one sort or the other.
In The Day After Tomorrow, the action is watching the greater population of North America getting frozen into popsicles because of a global warming-induced weather shift. Japanese businessmen are pummeled by soccer ball-sized hail, Los Angeles is ripped apart by twisters (that seem more than willing to pose for the cameras), and Europe is buried under 15 feet of snow.
And yet, we're still asked to care about the romantic foibles of teen-ager Jake Gyllenhaal, who's keeping his nerdy prep school friends warm by burning the better part of the New York Public Library. Never mind how a fire manages to burn when the library, and the chimney we never see, gets buried under a mountain of snow.
Yep, you can enjoy Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow, but you'll have to suspend your disbelief so hard you might acquire several hernias.
An occasionally entertaining, though ultimately forgettable fart of a movie, The Day After Tomorrow is watchable largely because it offers an opportunity to play the "What would I do?" game.
"How would I escape a flooded, then frozen New York City?" "Who would I choose to hole up with, and what kind of appetizers could be served?" "Do I own enough fleece apparel?" You get the idea.
While the film has provided an excuse to rehash debates over global warming, the film will likely do for environmentalism what Warren Beatty's Bulworth did for liberal populism. Uhh, nothing. Let's just say that a film that takes its trite social message (Global warming is bad!) less seriously than its CGI effects (Doesn't that snowed over Statue of Liberty look rad?) is not likely to trigger apostasies among the OPEC set.
Dennis Quaid does an admirable job as the earnest scientist possessed of the truth but not an audience. Gyllenhaal is his soft-spoken son who inherits his dad's intellectual traits but has trouble with girls. Fortunately, a frozen New York offers repeated opportunities for him to woo that special girl with repeated lifesaving.
Other subplots include a team of English scientists led by Ian Holm, whose job is to phone Quaid with foreboding weather reports before freezing with dignity; the still-burning love between Quaid and his ex-wife (Sela Ward); and a homeless black man from New York who's accompanied by some sort of urban sheepdog reared on pilfered frankfurters. The homeless man, who has no name, dispenses invaluable survival tips like using newspaper as insulation. Because just as global warming is bad, homeless people (especially dog owners) are people too.
Other notable moments come when the northern half of the United States is evacuated, and Mexico gets to close its borders to gringo refugees. (They're inevitably given the green light when the U.S. president forgives all outstanding debt. Touch!)
Like all apocalyptic shlockbusters, The Day After Tomorrow includes a vague portrait of the U.S. president. Here we're treated to a thinly veiled parody of our current administration, as a smug, white-haired vice president calls the shots while the commander in chief reflexively asks, "What do you think we should do?"
Sound familiar? So does this entire movie -- think ice and snow instead of reptilian extraterrestrials.
-- John Dicker