Archive for Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The Day After Tomorrow’ is not a total disaster

(PG-13) **

May 26, 2004

Tornadoes. Floods. Hail the size of muskmelons.

Sounds like springtime in Kansas.

Of course, it's a little different once these forces begin wiping out
the entire Northern Hemisphere, which is exactly what happens in the
disaster epic "The Day After Tomorrow."

Part throwback to the era of "Earthquake" and "The Poseidon
Adventure," and part modern special effects extravaganza a la "Deep
Impact" and "Twister," this blockbuster is like a greatest hits
version of natural catastrophes. What it lacks in originality - how
about that generic title? - it occasionally makes up for in scope.

Dennis Quaid stars as renowned climatologist Jack Hall, who uncovers
evidence while straddling an ice shelf in Antarctica that global
warming is causing a major shift in the planet's environment. The
repercussions are so severe that they could trigger another ice age
within a matter of weeks.

Meanwhile, Jack's son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and some high school
classmates have traveled to New York to take part in an academic
competition. Although smart and resourceful, Sam is really there just
to be near Laura (Emmy Rossum), for whom he has a major crush.

When the cataclysmic events begin to mount, Sam and Laura become
trapped in the Manhattan Public Library with a group of fellow
survivors. While most attempt to escape from New York, Sam decides to
heed the advice of his father and stay put. Despite the fact that the
East Coast is now a large glacier, Jack vows to make the 200-mile
trek from D.C. to New York City because, "I've walked that far before
in the snow."

What follows is a dual tale of survival as the Halls attempt to
reunite while the rest of the globe struggles to endure.

To be perfectly honest, when tornadoes batter Los Angeles and oceanic
flooding engulfs New York, it's hard not to root for Mother Nature. A
few of these images in "The Day After Tomorrow" are quite
spectacular, especially the overhead view of a giant tidal swell
coursing through Manhattan's familiar grid.

Otherwise, much of the visuals and plot points are overly familiar.
Writer/director Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day") doesn't break
any new ground with the disaster-blockbuster blueprint, beyond trying
to cram as many different types of atmospheric havoc into two hours
as possible.

Even the film's poster image is a recycled one. When Quaid hikes past
the frozen and partially buried Statue of Liberty, it's hard not to
picture Charlton Heston screaming, "You maniacs. You blew it all to
hell!"

What laughs there are in "The Day After Tomorrow" stem from the
unintentionally funny dialogue that peppers the flick - usually when
things seem most serious. It's hard not to snicker during a scene
that shows the southern half of the country being evacuated into
Mexico when a newscaster describes the event as "a dramatic reversal
of immigration."

Another memorably hilarious line comes during a presidential address
when the leader (Kenneth Welsh) makes a crack about how the United
States can learn from the example set by "third world nations," now
that we have encountered extensive tragedy.

This film's loopy environmental politics are pure left wing, but its
sense of how worldwide events are important only in relation to their
effect on Americans is straight out of the right-wing handbook.

The one atypical factor the picture has going for it rests with indie
darling Gyllenhaal. The talented actor has found a niche portraying
Holden Caulfield-esque outsiders in films such as "Donnie Darko" and
"The Good Girl." It's interesting to see him playing a close
variation on this character, but one inserted into an action movie
setting. His innate eccentricity is welcome in a movie this formulaic
and old-fashioned.

Early in the film, Gyllenhaal walks into a party held at a rather
conservative venue and declares, "This place is so retro it might
actually be cool if it were on purpose."

That's also a pretty fair assessment of "The Day After Tomorrow."

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