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Photograph by Kerry Hayes

Oh the Weather Outside Is Frightful: But the special effects are so delightful in 'The Day After Tomorrow.'

The Burning Bush

'The Day After Tomorrow' flames the president while it takes apart the planet

By Richard von Busack

Boom, crash, rumble goes the thunder behind the 20th Century-Fox logo. Screech, groan goes the Antarctic ice shelf, calving a Rhode Island-size chunk. Roarrrrrr goes the snow hurricane, freezing everything in its path, including a poor defenseless American flag. Clunk, thump, grind goes Roland Emmerich's dialogue. Succcccckkkkkk shriek the legions of tornadoes combing Los Angeles. Kersplash say umpteen zillion gallons of sea water giving the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan a dunking. Owooooooo howl the zoo-escaped timber wolves, who must be able to dogpaddle better than even Farley Mowat would have thought possible.

But of all the cataclysmic sounds during the course of The Day After Tomorrow, nothing is quite as satisfactory as the mammoth squissssssh as George W. Bush gets a major-motion-picture-size pie right in the face. The straight-faced comedy relief in The Day After Tomorrow is the presidential response to these unfortunate series of weather-related events. The sight of the capitol dome—usually the first indication that something's being done about the aliens/Godzilla/the giant ants—did nothing but trigger contemptuous laughter in the audience. First, the dithering president (Warhol-circle star Perry King) takes his orders directly from the VP; he's so out of it, he doesn't even merit an onscreen demise. The vice president (Kenneth Walsh) is short, bald and baldly short-tempered; he's built so studiously on the lines of Dick Cheney that Cheney ought to sue for royalties. The veep is angered to the extreme by these crackpot theories about the Kyoto Protocol and greenhouse gasses provoking climate change. And he's all the more furious that his own government scientist, paleometerologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), is taking his warnings public. Compared to this treacherous breaking of ranks, the little matter of snow falling in New Delhi is hardly worth noticing.

Quaid goes on a snowshoe trek from Philadelphia to rescue his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is encamped in the main New York library with his date for the new ice age, Laura (Emmy Rossum). "I'm using my body heat to warm you," she explains as she squeezes the young man. Her grasp of thermodynamics is one aspect of her genius. And yet she doesn't realize she has a festering sore on her leg until she's half-dead with septic shock. Intellectuals.

Watching L.A. and New York get blasted is cheering, and the buildings are all in the right place. But Emmerich always makes his characters too impersonal to pity; you'd feel like a sucker if you did. There's not a real whisper of terror in The Day After Tomorrow. Terrorlessness has its own appeal, especially in moments of high ridiculousness: there's a soon-to-be famous sequence in which Gyllenhaal makes an underwater pay-phone call to his father. The real contemptuous laugh, though, is on the Bush presidency and its ostrichlike behavior in the face of global warning. Ultimately, however, the joke may be on us.


The Day After Tomorrow (PG-13; 124 min.), directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff, photographed by Anna Foerster and Ueli Steiger, and starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, plays countywide.

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From the June 2-9, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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