The Day After Tomorrow

(2004) ** 1/2 Pg-13
124 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Roland Emmerich. Cast: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders.

Could global warming lead, in our lifetimes, to a superstorm and the New Ice Age? Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow says: sure, why not? The film was suggested in part by the book The Coming Global Superstorm by wee-hours radio talk-show host Art Bell and bestselling alien abductee Whitley Strieber, leading to understandable media rants about "bad science." Though experts disagree about the film's level of plausibility, global warming is no myth, and the Republican leadership gets a pointed drubbing in the film for its environmental policies, making this butts-in-seats disaster melodrama an unlikely lightning rod for controversy.

Emmerich's title recalls the widely viewed cautionary telefilm The Day After (just out on DVD), which depicted the best-case scenario of a nuclear missile strike. Emmerich doesn't know from best-case scenarios (or subtlety), so The Day After Tomorrow begins with a spectacular rift in the Antarctic ice shelf, shortly moves on to a "super hail" attack on Tokyo (in perverse retaliation for Emmerich's horrible Godzilla?), then brings on the superstorms, with tornadoes shredding the Hollywood sign, tsunamis washing through Manhattan, and killer drops in temperature. For good measure, Emmerich and co-screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff unleash some wolves: can't skimp on the action!

It's all old-Hollywood ridiculous in the Irwin Allen style, but with new Hollywood computers. Dennis Quaid ably plays the climatologist Cassandra who warns of the impending doom; even he baffles at the suddenness of the onslaught which follows. After delivering a quick "I told you so" to the Oval Office lookalikes (Perry King as the Pres. and Kenneth Welsh as the VP), Quaid grits his teeth, leaves doctor wife Sela Ward to tend to an angelic cancer lad, and starts walking—through a snowstorm—from Washington D.C. to Manhattan. There, Quaid's teenage son Jake Gyllenhaal hunkers down with love interest Emily Rossum, waiting out the storm by burning the great works of literature in the New York Public Library (note to Emmerich: you couldn't have made it a Blockbuster Video?).

Everyone knows that, with a summer movie like Twister— I mean Independence Day— I mean, The Day After Tomorrow, the science is not the thing. The plot and characters are certainly not the things (an angelic cancer lad?). The things are the special effects. All the ribbing in the world won't keep most people away from this slick, must-see summer movie, and why should it? The Day After Tomorrow is a hoot enough of the time for a guilty recommendation. True it's unabashedly liberal (with a particularly delicious gag involving Mexico), but exciting nonsense is non-partisan, and the flooding of New York is enough to raise your pulse and drop your jaw.

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