The Day After Tomorrow

The disaster movie may be mainstream cinema's guiltiest pleasure. Where else can you enjoy the sight of overpaid actors getting crushed in the wake of nature's wrath? Writer-director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla) is smart enough not to spare the cheese in his latest squish 'n' flee extravaganza. The Day After Tomorrow is a visually spectacular tribute to the horrors of global warming that--quite apart from its painfully earnest environmental message--knows we really want to see yuppies scattering like ants. And the script provides plenty of reasons for characters to drop their cappuccinos and run like hell. About the only natural disaster we don't observe on the way to the meticulous trashing of half the United States is a belching volcano. Oh, yeah, Canada gets wiped off the map too. But that's just a warm-up.

The sumptuously tacky tone is set when climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid as the hunkiest weather nerd on the planet) is seen lecturing on meteorological armageddon to an international assembly of political bigwigs. The most intelligent question is asked by a solemn man in a fez while the U.S. vice-president is openly derisive. You just know it won't be long before the Statue of Liberty is buried up to its armpits in snow.

Jack's dire predictions of environmental disaster come true with dazzling speed. Freakish weather is happening all over the world. But the Americans don't really begin to pay attention until downtown LA gets gutted by a tornado. Sure, the Scots can freeze their kilts off in a bizarre cold snap, but once the famed Hollywood sign is history, it's finally time to declare a national emergency. The president (a befuddled Perry King) takes Jack's advice and allows the stunned survivors to begin a massive trek for the safety of Mexico.

Thanks to a script with more than a few moments of unexpected wit, none of this is quite as silly as it sounds. In fact, the movie's major subplot is surprisingly absorbing. It involves Jack's son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), riding out the mother of all storms in the New York Public Library. Hunkered down with his nerdy pals from the debating team, they can't agree on what books to burn until someone finds a whole section on tax law. Not bad for a movie with hail the size of billiard balls.