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The Day After Tomorrow

  The Day After Tomorrow
Innocent people try desperately to escape from overblown special effects.

© 2004, Fox
All Rights Reserved

After seeing the effects of global warming first hand during a scouting trip to the artic, climatologist Jack Hall (a reliable Dennis Quaid) urges the nations of the world to take the threat of environmental destruction seriously. Soon after he's ignored by these nation's leaders for making irrational statements, another professor (Ian Holm) begins to see changes in the weather, which soon lead to radical, decimating storms, and a second ice age which covers the northern hemisphere. Learning that his son, Sam (a good Jake Gyllenhaal), and his friends are stuck in a New York City library as the temperature drops below -100 degrees Fahrenheit, Jack attempts a rescue mission during nature's final wrath.

The best way to chalk up the failure of "The Day After Tomorrow" (IMDb listing) is to label it as a colossal disappointment. Roland Emmerich's sprawling disaster film (made in the vein of the 1970 Irwin Allen productions as well as his own 1996 alien invasion picture, "Independence Day") has the right sense to take on a momentous national topic such as the fragile environment, yet it's more content to be a cartoon, and loses all credibility and potential entertainment value along the way. And while the intentions are there to try and do some good, this movie simply doesn't have the right approach to achieve anything outside of stupidity and frustration.

Subtlety is not Emmerich's strong suit; his routinely hammy approach made great films out of "Stargate" and "Independence Day," and disasters out of "Godzilla" and the Mel Gibson Revolutionary War drama, "The Patriot." "Tomorrow" nervously straddles that fine line between mass entertainment and outright preaching (in one case, directly to the camera), without much effort to melt the two angles into a whole. Emmerich likes to work with big caricatures and underlined dialog, but this approach backfires on him in "Tomorrow," with an able cast forced to overplay their dramatic cards at every turn, and visuals that lamentably dwarf the reality of the situation (the science of which could easily be debated). "Tomorrow" wants to be everything to everybody, but it cancels itself out over and over, straining in the end to come up with something that could pass for a lecture clothed in summer entertainment rags (a ridiculous sequence where Sam is chased around by starving CGI wolves is the apex of inanity), and rapidly loses any type of integrity as it hungers for the next big thrill. Emmerich is good with big bangs, but lousy trying to tie a movie around them.

The true selling points of "Tomorrow" are the nature attack sequences on New York and Los Angeles, which are the flashpoints for the film's marketing, and rightfully so: they are impressive to behold. But Emmerich is playing softball by choosing the two coasts to delegate destruction to. The Los Angeles sequence is especially numbing, since in place of real, honest weather-gone-mad chills (think a good chunk of "Twister"), the filmmaker is too busy screwing around with inside joke shots of the Hollywood sign and the Capitol Records building being ripped up by a literal fleet of tornados, or the ever-present Angelyne billboard thrown off its perch, careening down a street, and killing a news reporter. Lame, and in a very discouraging way.

What's happening to the rest of the country, much less the world? Emmerich regulates that stuff to the small screen, as the nation is glued to television coverage of the events unfolding. There's even a weird subplot about astronauts in space following the action down below, but still no clear glimpses at the cataclysmic events in other areas of the world. I think I've seen New York and Los Angeles trashed enough for two lifetimes, and the promise of a more global outlook on the weather occurrences is dashed by Emmerich's limited imagination. What's there is only superior in terms of special effects, especially a rapidly flooding New York sequence, but the last thing a disaster picture should feel like is "been there, done that."

The final moments of "Day After Tomorrow" are scrambled together pretty hastily (including one decent idea where US citizens are forced to immigrate to Mexico), and unfortunately don't offer much closure to the drastic changes the earth undergoes during the film. Emmerich, likely fearful that he's missed his chance to make an environmental statement, shovels in awkward dialog from Jack about "learning our lessons" and the Vice President of America, who simply reads a script about our new climate concerns. If Emmerich had taken his eyes off the money shots for just a moment and found a better way to integrate the message of the film, "Tomorrow" could've been the much more powerful and urgent cautionary tale it was meant to be.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

Mark your calendar (and your wall) with a Day After Tomorrow poster

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