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With: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm, Sela Ward, Emmy Rossum, Arjay Smith
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense situations of peril
Running Time: 124
Date: 05/17/2004

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cold Comfort

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Inside Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow, three movies arestruggling to get out.

First we have the hard outer shell: a heartfelt plea for environmental care. Then we have the gooey center: a cheesy disaster pic for people who love them and can't get enough of them. Finally we have the usual Emmerich creation: a terrible, terrible movie with dialogue so bad you'd think that he'd never heard another human being speak in his life.

It's possible to enjoy any of these movies while abhorring the others, which makes The Day After Tomorrow a puzzle. It's not a good movie, but it succeeds on so many gut levels that mere "goodness" doesn't really count. And it's funnier than anything since Battlefield Earth.

In the film, Dennis Quaid plays Jack Hall, a climatologist pulling samples from the arctic ice when the entire shelf suddenly collapses underneath him. It's the first step in a new wave of global warming, one strong enough to melt the ice caps, disrupt the warm Atlantic current and bury most of the Northern Hemisphere under ice.

The next step comes when freak weather occurs all over the world, from a deadly giant hailstorm in Tokyo to tornados in Los Angeles. Despite all this and other overwhelming evidence, our country's authority figures don't believe Jack when he tries to warn them.

Ian Holm co-stars as a professor who trusts Jack. However, he doesn't have much to do other than lend the movie some much-needed class.

Other subplots kick in when Jack's son (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes to Manhattan for a high school academic competition. When the flood waters rise, he becomes trapped in the public library with his two classmates, the cute Laura (Emmy Rossum) on whom he has a crush, and the science nerd (Arjay Smith) whose knowledge never really comes into play.

Feeling guilty about not spending enough time at home, Jack vows to travel from Washington D.C. to Manhattan -- on foot if necessary -- to rescue his son. Meanwhile, his wife (Sela Ward) refuses to evacuate the hospital she works in for fear of leaving behind a small cancer-ridden child. (I swear I'm not making this up.)

But things get worse when a cold front descends upon the land; it's so cold that, if exposed, mere flesh and blood will instantly freeze.

Emmerich and his co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff can't hold back the stale chestnuts here. Their story even includes escaped wolves from the zoo and a race for penicillin to save an infected colleague's life. Meanwhile, the dialogue assumes that the audience has the collective intellect of a four year-old. One classic example: "Older pay phones draw their power directly from the telephone lines!" No kidding!

The movie rocks back and forth, thundering the audience with its spectacular special effects, making us laugh with its unbelievably silly story, characters and dialogue, and making us cheer when the Vice President (who looks a lot like Dick Cheney) hangs his head in shame for having ignored scientists' warnings.

Already scientists are discussing the movie's tenuous connection with reality, though it certainly can't hurt for humans to be a little kinder to the planet we live on. In any case, The Day After Tomorrow is just utterly ridiculous. It's only going to age quickly and badly, and I wouldn't be surprised if became "Mystery Science Theater 3000" fodder in the not-too-distant future.

If you're going to get a bang for your buck, see it while the headlines are still wet.

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