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Review: 'Day After Tomorrow' a wreck

Special effects are amazing, but the rest ...

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Day After Tomorrow
Dennis Quaid searches through frozen landmarks for his son in "The Day After Tomorrow."
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(CNN) -- Can you say cheese? Because that's what you'll get when you buy a ticket to see "The Day After Tomorrow."

Don't get me wrong: Visually, the film is stunning. The special effects are breathtaking. The huge vistas of New York City caught in the grip of a tidal wave, followed by hundreds of feet of snow, are remarkable. And, yes, this film, with a reported budget of $125 million, will have a huge opening weekend and will make millions of dollars.

Too bad the plot is full of holes, the story itself does not stay within its own reality, and the dialogue is downright laughable. I know disaster flicks rarely make a whole lot of sense, but this film seems to go out of its way to be stupid.

Director Roland Emmerich is a master at conveying destruction and disaster on a grand scale. This is the man who brought us "Independence Day" (1996) and "Godzilla" (1998), and he does not disappoint on that level. But ultimately -- just like the aforementioned films -- "The Day After Tomorrow" lacks any real human emotion.

Hell on earth

Dennis Quaid stars as Washington-based climatologist Jack Hall. His research shows that global warming could trigger a catastrophic shift in the world's climate.

He's got a family, not that it's always apparent. Sela Ward has the unfortunate job of playing his wife, Dr. Lucy Hall, who is basically reduced to a couple of walk-on scenes. Jake Gyllenhaal fares better -- in terms of screen time -- as their 17-year-old son, Sam, who is trapped in New York when a huge super storm sweeps across the globe, and all hell breaks loose.

In the beginning, Hall's warnings fall on deaf ears. He and another scientist, Rapson (Ian Holm), who is stationed in Scotland, are the only ones in the world sounding an alarm. But then events start to happen that confirm their greatest fears.

At this point, common sense leaves the building. Despite snowstorms in New Delhi, tornados destroying Los Angeles, hail the size of baseballs falling on Tokyo, Scotland becoming flash frozen, the royal family evacuating England and New York drowning in a tidal wave, the U.S. government still fails to act. Hall is reduced to pleading with the vice president in a Capitol Hill hallway, where he is dismissed as only one man with an unproved theory.

Say what? Screenwriting 101 says you can't set up an alternate reality -- completely impossible weather conditions killing millions of people -- and then proceed to completely violate that reality. In this case the "reality" is that the world is clearly falling apart as it teeters on the edge of another ice age, and the vice president -- who seems to be really in charge of the country and looks a lot like a guy named Cheney -- ignores all these "so-called" facts in order to give the storyline fake dramatic tension.

This is the point where "The Day After Tomorrow" becomes an amusement park ride rather than a film with any kind of even a semi-believable plot.

Falling apart

There has been much ado about this film and what it has to say about actual global warming and climate change. Once again, however, it tanks.

Towards the very end of the movie there are a few references to mankind's use of fossil fuels and how it affects the planet. But that little bit of breast-beating feels like some extra appendage stuck on at the last minute. In the end, all the talk about the significance of this film is really a public relations stunt, which has provided millions of dollars in free publicity.

Day After Tomorrow
A tidal wave sweeps down Fifth Avenue in "The Day After Tomorrow."

Meanwhile, back to the plot, such as it is. Sam and some school friends have taken refuge in the New York Public Library, here they are burning books to stay warm and stay alive. At the last minute Sam is able to get through by phone to his father in D.C. and is told to stay put -- Dad is coming to the rescue.

The rest of the film cuts back and forth between Sam and his friends, and Jack -- who is fighting Arctic conditions on his way north to save his son. Most of the rest of the nation is being evacuated to Mexico, a plot point that caused a lot of laughter in the theater: Americans crashing the Mexican border instead of the other way around.

By this point, all you can do is sit back and let the amazing special effects wash over you while letting go of any hope for a coherent story. "The Day After Tomorrow" has all the markings of a major blockbuster, but that doesn't necessarily make it worth your hard-earned bucks.

"The Day After Tomorrow" opens on Friday, May 28, and is rated PG-13.


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