As if atoning for the war-mongering and racism of The Patriot, big-'B' director Roland Emmerich goes green with The Day After Tomorrow. Perhaps representing some hopefully prescient, pre-emptive zeitgeist change, it's a fun, humane and (believe it or not) upbeat movie needed relief from this spring's glut of blackhearted revenge fantasies like The Punisher and Man on Fire.
It's also not surprising that the GOP attack machine assailed the film sight unseen for weeks before its release. Amid superior CGI scenes of Los Angeles and New York City ravaged by tornadoes, tsunamis and worse, Emmerich offers an America dependent upon Third World generosity. Cheney and Bush surrogates played by Perry King and Kenneth Welsh come off as a rapacious demagogue and a bland dullard, respectively; they're the butt of the film's best jokes. And rationality trumps the evangelista: A proud New York atheist saves a Bible because it represents the first example of printed language.
Dennis Quaid, looking fit and up to the task of mouthing some clunky, pseudo-scientific expository dialogue, plays Jack, a paleo-climatologist who discovers that the ice caps are melting. Jack argues to an international committee that this ominous business could augur a new Ice Age caused by overconsumption of natural resources and poor waste disposal. The reasonable and predominantly Arabic committee agrees; the American VP huffs that climate change is a bunch of hooey, and even if it did exist, dealing with it would be bad for the economy.
Before you can say "Kyoto Protocols," New Delhi is buried by snowstorms, monster hail pummels Japan and tornadoes lay waste to Los Angeles. Special destructive attention is lavished on a wind-shredded Hollywood sign and an obnoxious FOX-TV reporter splattered by a flying billboard.
As the President struggles to understand the situation finally begging his VP for guidance a Godzilla-size tsunami engulfs Manhattan, where Jack's son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), is attending a scholarship competition.
Things get surreal fast. Up Fifth Avenue floats an abandoned oil tanker filled with wild wolves escaped from the Bronx Zoo. The new Ice Age hits and the tanker freezes at the midtown Public Library, where Sam, his love interest (Emmy Rossum) and a few others hide and burn the tax code for warmth. Meanwhile, in the film's weakest bits, Jack travels across the new frozen tundra of Pennsylvania to somehow rescue his son, while his doctor ex-wife (Sela Ward) tries to save a cancer-riddled tot.
Emmerich and co-screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff riff obsessively on Bush-era nastiness while finessing some tasty bits of ironic blowback. Distracted, Jack stiffs a turban-wearing cab driver; he then rifles guiltily through his pockets for change. As in real life, the President tries to run away from the disaster. In this case, however, he pays a serious price for his cowardice. As the ice creeps ever southward, the desperate remains of the northern-United States population cross the border into Mexico, begging for asylum.
Behind the leftie postulations lies good, clean disaster-movie fun. Just when you're wondering where the survivors of New York went, Emmerich supplies a doozy of an answer. After the sloppy amusements of Independence Day and Stargate, his pulp aesthetic finally transcends itself, delivering a distillation of post-Sept. 11 wish fulfillment that sidles right up to the poetic.