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IN SHORT: Been there done that. [Rated PG-13 for Intense Situations of Peril. 125 minutes]
The thing we like about disasterflicks is that, inevitably and seemingly as a requirement, New York City gets destroyed on the big screen. It's actually quite fun to see it happen, especially since we're planted with a audience in the Big Apple. We know a film like this succeeds if the audience goes 'ooo' when the disaster strikes. In The Day After Tomorrow, that disaster is a bigger than tsunami worthy tidal wave generated by the melting of the polar ice caps. There was not an 'ooo' to be heard.
Now let's talk about laughter. A good disasterflick also, usually, manages a couple of laughs (even if they're of the morbid humor kind). The Day After Tomorrow manages two big ones, though they came at times that the script wasn't trying to be funny. The off the mark yuks kept our attention up but wasn't enough to shift this flick into the realm of 'enjoyable despite itself and its intentions'.
The film starts off promisingly enough, with an out of the usual weather event striking New Delhi -- where a Global Warming Conference introduces us to Dr. Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) and compatriot Terry Rapson (Ian Holm), a researcher based in Scotland. Hall works who the heck knows where in the U.S. -- we suspect it's Washington DC but the script is so busy getting to the special effects that it doesn't bother with detail. Jack is arguing the pro-ecology side, pointing out that melting ice caps could trigger a shift in ocean currents and INEVITABLE DOOM! US Vice President Raymond Becker (Kenneth Welsh) thinks the climatologist is out to undermine the recovering economy. We would point out that Dr. Hall has a wee bit of on-scene experience but you'll have to be planted by the first scene 'cuz the special effect is cool.
Jack's loving wife, Dr. Lucy Hall (Sela Ward), a legit medical doctor and their son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), when first mentioned, is on his way to New York for a "scholastic decathlon," thanks to his ability to do calculus in his head (or more, perhaps due to an attraction to team star Laura Chapman (Emmy Rossum).
Then Mother Earth decides enough is enough; she drops hail the size of footballs on Tokyo and builds three massive storm systems over North America, Europe and the Siberian peninsula. Animals go nuts. Wolves break out of the Central Park zoo. Torrential rain floods the subways and streets. Our teen heroes do their best to get out of the city, but you can't get a car out and that also means you can't get a train out so they wind up stranded at the 42nd Street Public Library in midtown. Just after Sam gets a final phone call out, everything about the film started to go downhill fast.
Stay there!," says Dad, "I'm coming to get you!" which he does with working compatriots Jason Evans (Dash Mihok) and Frank Harris (Jay O. Sanders). Big laugh number one. It shouldn't have gotten a laugh, but there it was. Probably because we'd just been told that there was no way out of the City. Meaning no way in, either.
Here's the big problem: the special effects work is nice but, short of telling the theater manager to crank up the AC big time, there's no way to get the idea of cold across. Add to that the one plot point/ effect that we won't spill because when you see it you'll immediately know it's ridiculous. You won't have to know the lay out of New York streets to know, either.
Wait! There's more! The air temperatures drop to minus 150 degrees, give or take and depending on location. Everyone in the open without climatologist certified weather gear freezes to death in seconds. Which means [if you can finish this sentence you don't need to spend the money]. The Day After Tomorrow is such a by the book piece of work that, if you've got a decade of disasterflicks under your belt, this one's a rental. The subplot involving Sela Ward's character will bring a moan. The effects aren't enough to merit the 'buy for the visuals' recommendation.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Day After Tomorrow, he would have paid . . .
If you don't have a decade worth of disasterflicks under your belt -- repetition is an early sign of senility, someone told us once but we can't remember who -- here's a potential dateflick for the week. Not a very entrancing one.
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