I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to disaster movies. Give me big effects, big destruction, and lots of it and I’ll be happy. Till now, Roland Emmerich has proven to be the modern master of that genre. Silly computer virus ending aside, Independence Day is a blast. There’s even some fun to be had in watching Emmerich’s Godzilla, inferior though it may be to the eminently better low budget efforts of Toho. But The Day After Tomorrow is a total bore, a movie which uses Chinese guys getting bonked on the head by icicles as a substitute for cool destruction sequences.
The idea is that the world’s weather has gone wacky, due in some strange way to global warming. Now we’ve all got 6-8 days to live before three massive and very silly looking super storms cover the northern hemisphere, instantaneously turning it into a glacier as they pass.
To give the death of billions a human element, The Day After Tomorrow focuses in on a few scattered groups of people as they face disaster. There’s the crazy weather scientist (Dennis Quaid) who tries to warn everyone and fails. There’s Ian Holm and his group of scientists in Great Britain, who help crazy Dennis Quaid figure this thing out. Then there’s Quaid’s son Sam, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and his group of school chums trapped in New York when the world is pulled out from under them. Sam and his crew take up most of your screen time, with Gyllenhaal phoning in a performance as a nerd in love with a super hot nerdette. The other member of his group is an asexual, black uber-nerd, a character obviously ripped straight from TV’s “Family Matters”.
None of these people ever seem all that upset by the total destruction of their world and way of life. At no point does anyone burst into tears, or question whether they will survive. The closest the film ever gets to addressing the emotional trauma the death of millions might wreak on survivors is a half-hearted line delivered by Sam’s sexy girlfriend in which she declares that she hasn’t “adjusted” yet and then subsequently makes out with him.
I could excuse the fuzzy science that goes into the movie’s premise. I could even excuse the stupid behavior of the people wrapped up in this adventure and the extremely odd lack of dead bodies when almost everyone in New York is killed. Just blow some stuff up! After all, this is a disaster movie, a fantasy, and the only reason for any of that is as an excuse to rip things apart right? Wrong. The Day After Tomorrow only contains two relatively short and mildly exciting disaster sequences. One involves a flood in New York; the other involves tornadoes in L.A., Tornadoes which by the way aren’t all the scary when you’re used to seeing the real thing a couple of times a year in Texas. Instead, most of the movie is spent watching Jack Gyllenhaal shiver ominously next to Steve Urkel or gazing on Dennis Quaid as he mugs listlessly for the indifferent camera.
The Day After Tomorrow is two hours of disaster movie without all that many disasters. Snow and ice can kill, but watching everyone on the planet freeze only for the movie to flinch away any time we might see someone actually die is not a blast. The whole world is being destroyed and Emmerich only seems to care about what happens in New York and L.A. How about showing us what happened to Boise? Heck, I’d even settle for a few quick flashes of Washington D.C. It is the nation’s capital, remember? Like every media manifestation these days, Hollywood only cares about the coast. The rest of us can just drop dead. The Day After Tomorrow will make sure it happens via soul sucking, ridiculous boredom.