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The Day After Tomorrow

"It could happen a hundred years from now. It could happen a thousand years from now. All I know is that our children and grandchildren are going to pay the price."

So says paleoclimatologist and father of one Jack Hall, played by Dennis Quaid at his most earnest in an early scene from The Day After Tomorrow. If he'd only known the title of the film, Hall might have been able to make a better prediction. As it is, of course, he has to make an impassioned speech about global warming plunging the world into another Ice Age without knowing how right he is.

But he's also wrong. It's not our children and grandchildren that will pay the price. It's way too many people this weekend who will part with their ten dollars to see this terrible movie.

It's possible that The Day After Tomorrow may accidentally trick people into understanding what Al Gore was talking about last year when he gave a speech about Global Warming on the coldest day in New York City's history. But it's about as boring as a pre-"angry" Gore speech, even with a few random but intense scenes of bystanders getting hit by nature gone amok, the film is just about as boring as Gore.

Director Roland Emmerich may have good intentions; in a strange way, it's likely that he has passion for the subject of this film. Unfortunately, Emmerich substitutes a seesaw between eco-political polemic and cool special effects for anything resembling a narrative.

If you doubt his political points, you're not paying attention. Whereas Emmerich's previous disaster film, Independence Day, had Bill Pullman play a rugged U.S. President more Kennedy-esque than modern-day, The Day After Tomorrow has a weak but good-looking and charming guy (Perry King) that defers to his villainous Vice-President Becker (Kenneth Welsh, a ringer for Dick Cheney). King may look like Gore, but his mumbling is pure faux-South.

As for the Vice-President, well, down in Whoville they say that his heart grew three sizes that day …after tomorrow.

From the opening scene in the Antarctic, it's clear that spectacle is meant to carry us past the pseudo-science and dwelling on the hollowness of the script. Hall's scientific team takes core samples in the middle of a vast white wasteland, when suddenly the ground cracks, and part of the ice shelf just …falls away, as Hall makes a couple of superhuman leaps to save equipment. All very thrilling, but also very hollow, because we haven't been given the slightest chance to care about any of the team yet.

That problem keeps pace throughout the film. Whenever something like characterization rears its ugly head, Emmerich quickly throws in a couple of clichés and then runs like hell for a CG shot. To give us a human element, he even stoops so low as to present Peter, the bald sick child, stricken by an ailment so sympathy-inducing as to not be worth naming. Hey, if you're not moved by a scene of Sela Ward reading to him from Peter Pan, you can just …hey! Look! The Hollywood sign just got wiped out by a tornado!

Emmerich could be a good director, if not a great one. He certainly has the skill to let his pictures tell the story. Every now and then a quiet scene will happen that makes you realize how close he comes to being competent. But then it's back to pelting actors with hail the size of bowling balls. Then showing an amazing tidal wave wash over New York City. Then a flash-frozen Statue of Liberty.

Heck, even the timber wolves running amok are generated by a computer framing their fearful symmetry. (At which point, yeah, I wanted a tiger. Why not take it that one step further into ridiculousness?)

The money shots all feel like we've seen them before, and of course, we have. Emmerich has the same tumbling car shot from Independence Day wipe out a Los Angeleno, but in the earlier film, we had a stake. Harvey Fierstein had a certain charm, and we felt his loss. Here, it's just another guy in a panic. And then Emmerich wipes out another guy in a panic, and another and another. The actors might as well be computer generated themselves.

And yet they do the best they can. Quaid is believable as a father, if not necessarily as a brilliant scientist. Clearly staking a claim for his sunset years, Ian Holm has a certain charm as Terry Rapson, one of the few other scientists to believe in Quaid's character. It is Holm's voice in the trailer uttering "…save as many as you can," and despite the melodrama, it comes close to being moving in context.

To pull in the youth market, Emmerich has Jake Gyllenhaal and Emmy Rossum as high school students eventually trapped in the New York Public Library. Both have charisma, if not much depth, and it's somewhat believable that Gyllenhaal could be the product of Quaid and Ward. But they're all still just meat puppets, if not meat for the wolves.

There could be an important message here, and more frustratingly, Emmerich actually has the seeds of a more interesting film in the aftermath, as everyone has to move to more equatorial climes. But I just don't want to take the chance on The Day After The Day After Tomorrow.


Derek McCaw

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