|The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sela Ward, Emmy Rossum
Director: Roland Emmerich
Any movie that dares to discuss a hot button topic like global warming is going to get some press, but it’s safe to say that no one expected Moveon.org to rally behind “The Day After Tomorrow” and declare it “the movie George W. Bush doesn’t want you to see.” This is, of course, preposterous. If there is one thing Roland Emmerich’s movies are unquestionably not, it’s important. In “Independence Day”, he had two characters disarm an alien race with a computer virus. In “Stargate”, he took cross-dressing Jaye Davidson from “The Crying Game” and made him a sun god. All Emmerich really wants to do is blow stuff up. There is no sense in looking for or expecting anything else from him.
It is in that regard that “The Day After Tomorrow” is a smashing success, no pun intended. The visuals are absolutely spellbinding. And, true to form in an Emmerich film, everything else about the movie is utterly silly.
Dennis Quaid plays Jack Hall, a climatologist who witnesses firsthand a sheet of ice the size of Rhode Island break off the Antarctic snowcap. He tries to warn world leaders at a convention in New Delhi about the drastic effects this will have on the environment, only to be scoffed at by Vice President Becker (Kenneth Walsh), a man who was undoubtedly made up to be a dead ringer for Dick Cheney. The problem is, Hall was more right than he knew; while he was anticipating climate changes in a hundred years, the effects of this ice block are nearly instantaneous, producing hail the size of cats in Tokyo, multiple tornadoes in Los Angeles and a hellacious tidal wave in New York City. And where else would Hall’s estranged son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) be but in New York City for an academic competition, which he did as a ruse to get closer to cute classmate Laura (Emmy Rossum, the dead girl in “Mystic River”). Jack is determined to save his son, and heads up from D.C. in a brutal snowstorm to find him.
Nothing I wrote after the comment about the flood in New York is really of any importance, and this is where Emmerich’s movies fail us every time. The buildup to the spectacular special effects scenes is always well done, but none of his movies have a third act worth a damn. Once the flood hits New York, we have seen roughly everything that matters (though the Russian tanker that floats down the street later on is awfully cool). When there are no more special effects to dazzle us with, he has nothing left but the actors, and since he has invested so little time in creating characters or a story remotely engaging, they all fall flat.
But we’ve been through this with him before, and now those familiar with this work know exactly what to expect. “The Day After Tomorrow” looks fantastic, and is a little scary. But it’s not nearly as scary, or important, as some people will want you to believe. Take it for what it is, just another disaster movie, and enjoy the ride.