Worldwide disaster movies have their own brand of "we all came together in the face of horrible adversity" charm, which is at times endearing, at times annoying, but always cloyingly sentimental. The Day After Tomorrow is such a film. The adventure is meaningful and fairly well done, and even features that cute actor from Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal). It was enough for me to enjoy for the most part.
Paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) predicts the coming a new ice age, brought on by humanity's own destructive processes, particularly those leading to the Greenhouse Effect. Little does he know that this will happen, not in a hundred years, but in a few days. As stormy weather continues to brew, Jack tries to convince the government of the impending doom to little avail. Only with southernmost states are safe enough to evacuate to Mexico, yet Jack packs up his extreme weather gear to go north, on a mission to rescue his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is trapped in New York when the storms hit.
The Day After Tomorrow is adept at utilizing effects to create exquisitely frightening landscapes. Los Angeles breaks apart in a writhing mass of tornadoes, New York city floods over the walls of the public library before freezing over into icy piles of ruins. These scenes, so real and fantastic at the same time, lend the film magical realist qualities. The genre hopping between science fiction, fantasy, and action is subtle and seamless. As the film flits through corny teenage flirting to death and the freezing over of the Statue of Liberty, it keeps continuity.
Yet while the set could hold this majesty without seeming overdone, the music was much too heavy-handed from the start. Its dark intensity began with the very first bit of dialogue, so that by the time the weather did get scary, the music no longer was.
The plot and the acting also suffered from this overdramatic beginning that went nowhere. Both walked that wide line of clichéd mediocrity. The Day After Tomorrow featured the father who realizes, in the wake of catastrophe, that he hasn't spent enough time with his family, the nerdy but attractive teenager who admits to his crush, right after he saves her life, that loves her, and men who are loyal to their group leaders and posts until the end, even if that means death. None of these subplots delved any deeper into the thoughts behind the actions, and were exceedingly predictable. And while this made for a more comfortable movie, it did not add any real interest or investment. There were, however, a few moments of humor, chief among them being the American flight into Mexico. Here, US refugees streamed illegally over the closed Mexican border while the President negotiated the forgiveness of all Latin American debt in exchange for asylum. The audience laughed raucously and cheered, which may have been even funnier than what was happening on screen. Partly because of this combination of banality and odd humor, the moral message of environmentalism that was continually stressed, appeared somewhat less than genuine.
While perhaps not quite as epic as 1996's Independence Day, and certainly less overtly patriotic, The Day After Tomorrow's quite possible turn of events lends it some credibility as an action sci-fi. As a concept it convinced me, however, as a well-crafted movie, it didn't. Nevertheless, at a mere 124 minutes, it managed to keep me in my seat without pushing me to the edge of it.