From the muddy message to the clunky narrative to the curious casting to the shadows of previous events, The Day After Tomorrow just feels wrong. An action movie about global warming? An adventure without much adventure? Dennis Quaid without the charm? New York City landmarks consumed in apocalyptic imagery?
Do the math. Nothing about The Day After Tomorrow adds up.
Which is unfortunate considering that the filmmaker, Roland Emmerich, was the same man who gave us Independence Day. That 1996 film was a classic from bizarro world -- War of the Worlds for the summer-movie set. It was a ridiculous film about alien invasion that succeeded on its tongue-in-cheek charm, delightful special effects and shrewd casting. But that was then, when watching a spaceship obliterate the White House was shocking in a funny, not tragic, way.
The Day After Tomorrow suffers from identity crisis. If Emmerich is trying to give us a message movie about mankind's inability to respect the environment, he does so with fuzzy science and ludicrous leaps of faith. If he's trying to deliver a special effects-driven action movie, he does so with a somber tone that constricts everything from characters' movements to the eye-candy effects. And did he really think we're so far removed from 9/11 that we don't mind watching Gotham nearly obliterated? In terms of grief, it still does feel like only the day after yesterday.
Much of The Day After Tomorrow feels recycled from Independence Day. The world is under attack, and it's up to a scientist to take matters into his own hands and convince the president of the United States to take action, while simultaneously trying to reconcile with his estranged wife. Meanwhile, a young man fights a small battle that is emblematic of a greater war. And a strong-willed middle-age woman shows off her maternal instincts in the face of certain death. In Independence Day, we had Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Will Smith. For this go-round, we get Dennis Quaid, Perry King and Jake Gyllenhaal. Where are the shoot-outs? Where are the one-liners? Heck, where's the stripper?
Emmerich figures that crisis is crisis, that it brings out the best in us. But global warming is too complicated a matter to be reduced to good vs. evil, so when the tornadoes start chewing up Hollywood and freezing hurricanes start consuming New York City, we're left not with a battle against an enemy we can fight so much as one against a natural force we must simply endure.
There is a semblance of a plot. Quaid's climatologist Jack Hall is so career-driven that he's losing his wife (Sela Ward) and maybe his moping son, Sam (Gyllenhaal). But Jack's one of the few scientists who's hip to global warming, though he cannot convince Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh, doing his best Dick Cheney) until the water starts hitting the coast. Meanwhile, lovesick Sam is following hot nerd classmate Laura (Emmy Rossum) to an academic competition in, coinkydink of coinkydinks, New York City!
Quaid has never been less charismatic. No one can deny that Joker's grin of his; here he saves it for last, when it's too late. Gyllenhaal is reduced to the hang-dog expression that wore out its welcome sometime around The Good Girl.
When God's wrath is writ large upon the planet, Jack delivers his report to the president (Perry King) -- who, due to an act of Congress, is not allowed to deliver any lines -- and then scurries off in a gathering blizzard to save his son. With two friends, one of whom will surely die along the way. On foot. In a blizzard. From D.C.
Meanwhile, Jack's doctor wife takes care of a precocious, adolescent cancer patient until the storm blows over. Meanwhile, Sir Ian Holm does his level best as a scientist stranded out in the Atlantic Ocean with his crew, dispensing crucial data to Jack while toasting their inevitable deaths with a wink of the eye. Meanwhile, the entire country heads south to Mexico for a quick chuckle about the irony of immigration laws.
Will Sam figure a way to keep his classmates warm (especially Laura) until help arrives? Will Sela Ward ever get a career break? Will Mexico stop laughing long enough to open the gates?
Day's computer-generated imaging team tries to dazzle the audience with waves flooding Manhattan and a winter freeze that covers the land at warp speed. Sometimes, they are dazzling; other times, they have that quivering, nervous effect or that hideous shade of gray that betrays CGI for the conceived look that it is. Worse than anything, there's no fun here. Just a desire to ride out the storm and go home and wait for the New Orleans summer, where flooding is real, serious and not-so-entertaining business. Time to go see a stripper.
- In over his head: Jake Gyllenhaal battles the imperfect storm that is The Day After Tomorrow.