Because you can’t kill clouds, ice or rain, there’s really no bad guy in The Day After Tomorrow, where global warming brings about cataclysmic climate changes in the northern hemisphere.
Well, no villain unless you count its ridiculously shortsighted U.S. vice-president, who dismisses environmental concerns and doesn’t look at all like Dick Cheney.
The Cheney caricature is as subtle as the tidal wave that ultimately turns New York into a major metropolitan bathtub. Impressive set pieces such as that one ensure the movie’s entertainment value, at a slightly more sobering level than the epic B-movie cheese of Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day. It’s not really a fun ride, but it is still a good ride, with plenty of pin-you-to-your-seat stuff that outweighs its silliness.
It’s what anyone editorializing on the movie’s impact on the importance of actual global warming needs to remember. This movie will have as much effect on environmental policy as S.W.A.T. did on police sensitivity training initiatives.
Though Emmerich and co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff will probably argue otherwise, the science in this movie is an excuse to get to the mass-destruction extravaganza at which Emmerich excels. The movie’s integration of effects and a sense of danger, though, lures us with its blockbuster spell.
Actors in movies like these don’t deliver performances so much as they succeed in not being crowded out. Dennis Quaid stars as Jack Hall, an outspoken climatologist whose warnings of wicked weather “for our children and grandchildren” go unheeded by the world community.
That is, until killer football-sized hail strikes Tokyo, Los Angeles is destroyed by tornadoes and New York comes under the eye of a super-storm that will bring about a new ice age. Stuck on a quiz-bowl trip competition in the Big Apple is Jack’s teenage son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose inherited sass and smarts serve him well under pressure.
Although it seems unlikely that the president of the United States would let the point man on this catastrophe just take off, Jack embarks on a perilous journey to save Sam and his friends.
Like Independence Day, the spectacle is infused with the notion of America as the go-to nation for bootstrap hoisting. (Any mention of Europe is confined to three helicopters crashing in Scotland and a very academic Ian Holm drinking fine scotch while resigning himself to his fate.)
But there is some sneaked-in subversion aside from the Cheney-bashing. In good corporate synergy, Fox (the film’s studio) makes great use of its news division. But as shown here, their L.A. coverage is more like fair and chemically imbalanced. A newsman’s comment on a bus flattening a Porsche sounds like a sports highlight, and there is much overly histrionic shouting.
Emmerich also rather masterfully drops in one of the weirdest — and funniest — political pokes in a major movie in some time. Without spoiling anything, if Emmerich can make comic relief out of illegal immigration, his game is on.
But The Day After Tomorrow is, first and foremost, a blockbuster with incredible momentum, chilling us even with ominous shots of Doppler radar.
It’s enough to dismiss the ridiculous plot contrivances. The movie has no bad guy, but there are bad animals. Angry wolves stalk people Jurassic Park-style. Seems like super-storms that freeze people solid in seconds just aren’t dangerous enough.