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Day after disaster

Christy Lemire

“The Day After Tomorrow” is a big, loud, summer action movie masquerading as a cautionary tale with social and political relevance.The film’s cataclysm of climatological chaos turns the Northern Hemisphere into tundra more frozen than Lambeau Field. Yet it also manages to bring people together – the right people, namely the film’s stars – and enlighten them at the right moments.High school students Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Laura (Emmy Rossum) fall in love while trying to avoid freezing to death in the New York Public Library (though we know they can’t possibly die, because they’re too good-looking).Sam’s estranged parents, Professor Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) and Dr. Lucy Hall (Sela Ward), seem likely to reconcile, thanks to the pouring rain and driving snow.A homeless man (Glenn Plummer), with his trusty border collie in tow, teaches a rich kid from Manhattan’s Upper East Side (Austin Nichols) how to keep warm using paper.And most important of all, the vice president of the United States, who just happens to resemble Dick Cheney, realizes only in the aftermath of mass destruction that, er, maybe he should have listened to warnings about the dangers of global warming. The familiar-looking, 50-ish president, meanwhile, doesn’t say much as the situation worsens and leaves the big decisions to everyone else.Director and co-writer Roland Emmerich, who blew up the White House in “Independence Day,” seems to want it all here. He wants to preach environmentalism, yet pummel his audience with dizzying sight and sound. He wants to put his characters in peril, yet have them utter something witty as they’re about to die. One guy who crashes through the glass ceiling of a mall jokes that he just thought he’d drop in for a little shopping. (Groan.)

Yet for all its spectacular visual effects – including tidal waves that flood Manhattan and freezing temperatures that cause British military helicopters to plummet from the sky – the movie’s most thrilling, terrifying event is one of the simplest: turbulence in an airplane as Sam and some classmates fly from Washington to New York. That’s the most realistic force to fear, and the only one likely to make you feel truly anxious.Tornadoes that spin through downtown Los Angeles are actually a joke, simply because they have such remarkably good aim. They take out landmarks like the Hollywood sign and the Capitol Records building, along with a TV reporter who’s breathlessly trying to tell the world what’s happening around him. (Though how the twisters made it through traffic on the freeways is a mystery.)Conversely, watching New Yorkers scurry for their lives remains unsettling – even though it’s been nearly three years since Sept. 11, and even though the source of terror this time is a computer-generated storm.In the midst of all this is Sam, waiting for his father to rescue him as promised. If that means walking through blizzard conditions from Philadelphia to New York, Jack Hall will do it – even though he’s the only scientist in world who predicted all this deadly weather, and is usually the smartest guy in the room.”When this storm is over, we’ll be in a new ice age,” he warns several serious-faced government officials before embarking on his journey.By then, the box office will already have been heating up, and that’s all that really seems to matter.”The Day After Tomorrow,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 for intense situations of peril. Running time: 122 minutes. Two stars of four.


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