165 – The Day after Tomorrow

The Day after Tomorrow is an appropriate title, really. It’s the kind of movie you always want to watch the day after tomorrow, no matter what the day is.

Okay, cheap joke. Always a good way to start a review, even if it’s a joke that’ll show up in most lukewarm reviews.
Tornados in Los Angeles! A tidal wave in New York! Superduperquick frost!! Run! Get the kids, go to the basement! No, wait, it’ll flood there. Go to the top floor! No, wait, the tornado will get you. Ahhh! Die!

Seems that when Hollywood wants you to get killed, well then by gum you get killed, logic be damned. See, the polar ice caps are melting (perhaps you’ve read about this somewhere). According to paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), the fresh water from the melted caps was interfering with the salt water of the oceans (who knew?), causing desalinization, which in turn apparently causes every natural disaster known the man, even hurricanes that appear over land (hint: they usually appear over water).

Hall’s model claims this’ll all happen over the next 100, 1000 years (he’s not sure, of course), but during a conference in New Delhi the vice president of the United States heckles him from the audience. As in most disaster movies, this is foreshadowing; as soon as the mess happens (first in L.A., for a change), Jack tries to warn the veep about What Might Happen, and he’s ignored. (“He tried to tell them… but they wouldn’t listen!”) It’s up to Jack to save the day!

At the same time, Jack’s son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is attending some kind of smart-kid trivia contest in New York. When the tidal wave hits the city, Sam and his gang (including the One Nerd in his group, the Girl of Sam’s Dreams; and the Cad Who Might Steal Her Away from Sam) are pretty much stranded. At first, they attempt to get back to home to Washington, but a last-second phone call to Jack convinces Sam to stick it out in the New York Public Library.

The dichotomy between father and son isn’t subtle. Sam’s a bit of a rebel, having received a failing grade in a class for not showing his work, and Jack’s always rebelling against his bosses at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At the library, Sam decides to walk across the giant ice floe that’s developed in Manhattan to a Russian tanker that’s somehow made its way into town. (Don’t ask.)

Back in D.C., Jack decides to fulfill a promise he’d made to his son (look! More foreshadowing!) and trek to New York to get his son. There are two instances of “No! I can’t let you go alone!” as Jack’s comrades in science and Sam’s friends help out.

At any rate, Jack’s eventually called in to brief the president and the Joint Chiefs. Of course, why wouldn’t he be? He’s obviously the only scientist in the world who said global warming would be the end of us all. During the briefing, he outlines the bad news, that in about 7-10 days the face of the globe would be changed forever. Jack’s a real downer, isn’t he? Someone in the room asks him what his plan is, which is funny – I thought that was THEIR job. But that’s what
they do in these disaster movies; they ask the scientist what he thinks should be done, and then they ignore him. But this time, they don’t. Probably because by that time New York was 100 feet under water and snow, and Los Angeles was demolished by three twisters. So what’s Jack’s plan? Evacuation. Get this – he draws a line on a map, cutting the United States in half widthwise. All of the states below the line should be evacuated; those above it, Jack says, are already lost. It’s
too late to save him, he claims. The southern states should go to Mexico.

Bearing in mind that the science in this movie is already highly suspect, one must also realize that emigrating to Mexico is a pretty dumb idea. Why there? If the frosty badness is going to hit, say, Texas, why would it stop at the Rio Grande? The entire southwest U.S. seemed to be as safe as Mexico, and yet the president orders everyone to go there (which led to some laughter in the audience – U.S. citizens charging en masse across to border TO Mexico?). Only after the U.S. forgives a ton of third-world debt are we allowed to overrun Mexico. Which only seems fair. (Note to third-world countries! Hope
for a massive disaster to befall us so your debt will be forgiven!)

(As an aside, here’s a drinking game for you to try when this comes out on video. Every time someone says, “My God!” or some variant, chug some vodka.)

The special effects weren’t bad, but they weren’t nearly as convincing as they should have been, given that there was no real character development, a simple plot, and an atmosphere that failed to get me to care about any of the participants (although it did try). The tornados looked real, and so did the tidal wave (to an extent), but the timberwolves that fortuitously show up about halfway through didn’t look at all real – perhaps because they weren’t. They were computer
generated.

The entire tone of the movie was off a little, too. Imagine this in real life. Tens of millions of people are going to die. Sure, you’d be concerned about your own skin, but you wouldn’t likely forget that this was going to affect so many people. This movie, however, makes the imminent deaths of all of the offscreen people nothing more than background noise. There’s obvious mass bloodshed here, but no one seems to bat an eye.

There are also superfluous characters and story threads, which is fine if you’re in the middle of a four-night blockbuster miniseries. It’s not fine when you have to cram everything into two hours or so. Shedding some characters would have helped immensely.

Through it all, Dennis Quaid as Jack is very strong, perhaps the best work he’s done in years. He didn’t have much to work with, but I think he did a great, soulful performance. (I say “soulful” because I don’t think the director has one, and the performances of most of the cast leads me to doubt theirs as well.) Gyllenhaal is his equal as Sam, perhaps making up for his awful performance in October Sky. But most of the cast is just there, taking up space. One other notable mention, though; Ian Holm as Dr. Rapson, the scientist in Scotland who alerts Jack to the impending doom is outstanding, leagues better than the material.

One of the aspects of a disaster film that make it satisfying to moviegoers is that it has a palatable ending. Your ship sank? Well, at least some people survived and can simply pick up the pieces of their broken life, or at least hum the melody to a sad country song. But not the ostensible survivors of this movie, no. See, these natural disasters are supposedly the harbingers of another ice age. Yeah, you got it. They have to deal with this crap for 10,000 years.

The Day after Tomorrow is mediocre, with poor plotting, vacant characterizations, and mostly crummy special effects. It has some unintentionally hilarious moments, but overall it’s a waste of time. Still, if you must see it, please see it on the big screen.

The Day after Tomorrow: **

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