In The Day After Tomorrow, super nerds, and not just any super nerds, but super good-looking nerds tackle The Perfect Storm times ten plus Independence Day minus the aliens. It doesn’t take a nerd to figure out that equation means a summer blockbuster enhanced with a gazillion CGI effects. Writer-director Roland Emmerich can’t even bother with wrangling real animals, using computer substitutes for the most part.
Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid, Cold Creek Manor) warns the Dick Cheney-inspired Vice President of the United States (Kenneth Welsh) of forthcoming environmental damage and gets a lecture on the fragility of the U.S. economy in response. In the mean time, global warming has caused the melting of polar ice caps with the paradoxical effect of bringing on the next ice age. Emmerich doesn’t have time for realism, so the new ice age – preceded by snow in New Delhi, giant hailstones in Tokyo, tornadoes in Los Angeles, and a tsunami in New York – arrives in the time span of a few days.
Jack’s genius son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko) and his friends are in Manhattan for an academic competition when the storm hits. They retreat into the New York Public Library as a tidal wave crashes into the city, soon bringing about the bizarre sight of a Russian tanker floating down Fifth Avenue. Cut to Sam’s mother and Jack’s ex-wife (Sela Ward) in Washington D.C. caring for a young boy suffering from leukemia as everyone else abandons him. A family of heroes they are. At one point, Sam’s girlfriend (Emmy Rossum, Songcatcher), is suffering from a wound that threatens amputation and Sam braves the storm to find medicine. Next thing you know, he has to act as a decoy to lead away hungry wolves (escaped from Central Park’s Children Zoo) from his friends.
Remember that this movie is coming from a guy who had the President of the United States fly a jet into battle against space aliens in Independence Day and made a Godzilla movie in which the real Godzilla failed to show. He did find a strong cast for this one however. Gyllenhaal’s performance is a bit half-hearted, but Quaid imbues his role with real emotional gusto despite the one-dimensionality of this hero. Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) appears as a scientist in Scotland for no good reason. Emmy Rossum, who had an impressive cameo in last year’s Mystic River, has a very conventional love interest role here. Though she has little to do, she is heavenly to look at with her large anime eyes and lips that Angelina Jolie should envy.
The disaster movie genre is always beset by the conflict between making the audience feel the tragedy befalling the characters and creating excitement from the awesome spectacle causing that tragedy. In The Day After Tomorrow, spectacle wins hands down. For a movie in which millions apparently die, the message is more “Wow, this looks cool” (no pun intended) than “This really sucks.” Certainly Emmerich sports an environmentalist warning/message, but the plot contrivances on display are so silly that the theme is hard to take seriously on any rational level.