Roland Emmerich’s “The Day After Tomorrow” is not at all about the day after tomorrow, but instead the day before tomorrow, and finally tomorrow. And along the way to tomorrow we are treated to several sub-plots of main characters assuring us that even if most of the world’s people succumb to the massive storms creating “climate shifts” in our atmosphere, there will at least be some survivors.
The setup is highly formulaic. Like Emmerich’s “Independence Day” and the countless disaster movies that came before it, the world is taken by surprise because the people in charge didn’t believe the smart guy and his diagram.
This guy is Jack Hall (Dennis Quiad), a leading paleoclimatologist and expert in global warming theory. While in Washington (and once at a UN conference in New Delhi) he briefs the president (Perry King) and vice-president (Kenneth Welsh) on what steps should be taken to prepare the world for imminent disaster. Jeez, the vice-president looks an awful lot like Dick Cheney. When Jack suggests a massive evacuation, the vice-president dismisses the ridiculous notion of global warming and retorts, "Our economy is every bit as fragile as the environment." Oh yeah, it’s definitely the Movie Land Dick Cheney. Never mind that New Delhi is being blanketed with snow and Tokyo with hail the size of softballs, there’s no way Jack can be making any sense. The president himself also has trouble making what appears to be easy decisions, as he asks the vice-president, "What do you think we should do?" when the FAA advises him that all flights should be grounded; two have already crashed.
But the world doesn’t really take much notice to these startling occurrences until a family of tornadoes rip apart Los Angeles destroying everything in its path, including the HOLLYWOOD sign, which is seen on live television thanks to brave news reporters covering the action. Soon to follow the devastation of Los Angeles is a rainstorm over New York that lasts for several days, upsetting Atlantic currents not at all intimidated by Lady Liberty.
This brings us back to Jack, whose 17-year-old son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in New York with Laura (Emmy Rossum) and Brian (Arjay Smith) as part of a three-member academic decathlon team. When a wall of water from the coastline pours through the streets of New York City, the decathlon team heads for the highest ground, the old Manhattan library where of course they’ll run into a wise old black bum (surprisingly coherent and sober) who will use his knowledge of life on the streets to keep the survivors warm when the temperatures fall well below negative triple-digit degrees Fahrenheit. Now if only library security will let him bring his dog inside.
In a chilling (mind the pun) display of brilliant special effects, we soon see how quickly the temperature drops and everything turns to ice. Jack warns Sam via phone that he must not leave the library as anyone caught outside will surely die of hypothermia. Too bad several library dwellers -- whose names we unfortunately never learn -- chance the storm and receive the fate extras always get in disaster movies.
Jack’s mother and Sam’s wife, Dr. Lucy Hall (Sela Ward), is also in New York. Her subplot involves a young cancer patient named Peter who’s the last person to be evacuated from the hospital that’s remarkably still standing...that is, if the ambulance ever arrives. But we know it will come even though Manhattan is halfway buried in what is now snow, since the only time we ever see her in the movie is when she’s either with her cancer patient or on the phone with her son still stranded in the library.
Determined to rescue his son, Jack along with two of his sidekicks get in a truck and travel north toward the frozen apple. It’s best not to ask how the roads could still be navigable because the adventure gets even more silly. After a predictable crash, the trio heads out on foot as if it’s possible to walk from Washington to New York through an unforgiving blizzard in just a couple of days. But hey, if I didn’t complain back when Earth beat the aliens by e-mailing them a computer virus in Emmerich’s “Independence Day,” I’m not going to get all technical now. (Get this, the Dick Cheney in this movie forgives all of Latin America’s debts and even praises “third-world-country” Mexico for its services to America! )
You may have noticed that most of this review is about characters and subplots, and that’s because most of the movie is about the characters and subplots, though I would have liked for it to have been more about the catastrophic storms and the global impact of this new ice age. This, along with some truly bad dialogue is the worst part of the film, which is still a lot of fun despite it being unable to shake the formulas. It’s kind of nice to know that even when faced with the possible extinction of mankind, love and jealousy prevail, as Sam wonders if he should tell Laura he loves her before a good-looking rich boy from another decathlon team tells her first.
The great special effects and haunting score by Harald Kloster combined with a few twisted elements (I loved those wolves) make “The Day After Tomorrow” a worthy summer action movie and an enjoyable way to spend a few hours at the multiplex. Get ready New York, because Roland Emmerich isn’t finished with you just yet.