Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Day After Tomorrow


I've had to say good-bye to two more of the little girls questing to be named the Shirley Temple of the new millennium on my new reality television show, American Idyll. They simply could not give our viewers the realism that my production demands in our latest foray. Given the demographic of my contestants, we decided to spend this week working on a production number based on the musical Annie. Yours truly donned the frizzy red wig to play the title role (and I was absolutely sensational in the part - although I did have to bind my feminine endowments rather tightly to convincingly play a ten year old girl). Our remaining six contestants were my back-up orphans in an old fashioned medley of song and dance and lovely little Horatio Alger moments.

In order to get the girls to really feel the part of penniless depression orphans, we moved shop from my luxurious home, Chateau Maine, to an abandoned warehouse in East Los Angeles, where the production team gave them only a thin crust of bread and an old burlap bag for clothing. I, of course, am such a convincing actress that I did not need this to capture the mood; Normy and I had a lovely suite a little ways away at the Bonaventure. There were problems, of course. Little Campbell's mother was caught trying to sneak in a McDonald's Happy Meal and had to be severely reprimanded. Our viewers require authenticity in their divas in training. We had to ultimately say goodbye to Campbell when her mother resorted to catapulting Dunkin Donuts towards the windows from the building across the street. Little Amber was also eliminated when she developed a nasty rash from playing with some rodent she found in the corner. We did, eventually, get the number on tape and I was very pleased with the result and will make sure it gets to the Emmy voters for their consideration.

As a reward for their good work, Normy and I decided to take our four remaining contestants out to the movies, before returning to Chateau Maine. As they had been hard at work on Annie, I thought that The Day After Tomorrow might be a good choice and I was even under the impression it might be a sequel of some kind. I was soon disabused of this notion as there was a dearth of singing and dancing and an excess of cyclonic activity. This epic disaster film, directed by Roland Emmerich, more or less replicates his earlier film Independence Day from 1996 only this time the villains are cloud formations and ocean currents rather than gooey aliens with green death rays. The plots, characters and scripts are more or less interchangeable.

The time is the near future. The world hasn't yet moved ahead in fashion or custom but Fox News seems to have taken over all media. As our story opens, something has gone seriously wrong with the weather. In an opening sequence, a piece of the Antarctic ice shelf breaks away leading to changes in ocean currents. There's snow in New Delhi, huge hailstones in Tokyo, and an F-5 tornado or two whipping through Los Angeles. Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is predicting catastrophic weather changes and a new ice age (with the aid of crusty British character actor Ian Holm, stuck in a thankless subplot involving rural Scotland, ocean buoys and a need to rescue the British royals from Balmoral before they turn into popsicles (a fate which would be undetectable from their usual state as far as I can tell)). When Hall's predictions start coming true, we launch into a family psychodrama against a background of world-wide calamity. Jack's son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), boy genius, is in New York City attending some sort of high school trivia quiz along with class mate Laura (Emmy Rossum). When Manhattan is suddenly flooded by storm surge, they take refuge in the New York Public Library. In the meantime, his estranged wife Lucy (Sela Ward in a truly thankless role), a pediatric oncologist, is spending her time reading Peter Pan to a young patient. When the flooding is followed by a super freeze turning New York into the world's largest hockey rink, Sam decides to snowshoe to his son's rescue along with several disposable supporting actors. Eventually, young love triumphs, day players die, families are reunited and the entire population of the United States moves to Mexico, presumably to begin a new life picking melons and providing lawn care.

The film is just about as silly as the preceding synopsis suggests. There's been a good deal of press about the politics of the film - that it's half hearted pot shots at the current administration's lack of support for the Kyoto accords could decide the coming presidential election and tripe like that. No one with an I.Q. above room temperature will regard this film as anything other than lunatic fantasy. All of the weather disaster scenes (which seem to have been stolen from other films such as Twister) are full of action and spectacle and are a heck of a lot of fun, but they keep getting interrupted with maudlin drama that would embarrass a bad episode of The Young and the Restless. The floods, winds, hailstones, freezes and other assorted plagues come on like gangbusters and are lovingly filmed. They keep you awake and you count the moments to the next one. I was really extremely impressed by the visual effects and the way in which CGI has improved over the course of the last decade. I could almost, but not quite, believe that New York Harbor was roaring up Fifth Avenue in a determined attempt to wash away our heroes.

The human actors in this spectacle gamely try to compete with the enormous numbers of special effects, but mainly fail. Dennis Quaid brings his usual square jawed manliness to his performance, but is hampered by the fact that he spends a good portion of the film in arctic gear that allows you to see little more than the whites of his eyes. He's upstaged repeatedly by Ian Holm, who can get more out of three words than Quaid can out of pages of climate and current related exposition. The younger set seem to be having a lot of fun. Jake Gyllenhaal has a lot of conviction as Sam and has a certain subversive charm, especially in his early scenes when he's allowed to be a kid. Once he's supposed to be the hero, however, the script doesn't let him do much other than play the cliché. Emmy Rossum, as his love interest, has nothing to play but 'the girlfriend' and wears what appears to be a tea cozy on her head for long stretches. Her makeup, however, is flawless, neither torrential downpour, flood, septicemia, nor super freeze disturbs her eye liner and mascara. She must be using Lesterene brand - tested to withstand the elements. Most of the supporting cast is eminently forgettable. They rarely stick around for long before being carried off to some horrible off screen death and those that do survive are given types, not characters to play and rarely have anything intelligent to say. The only one that made any impression on me at all was Dash Mihok as Quaid's doofus assistant. He at least tries to bring some quirks to his one note role.

The Day After Tomorrow is perfect summer entertainment, great for a rainy Sunday afternoon, or for a hot summer night when the air conditioning isn't working at home. It won't make you think; it's full of action eye candy, and like a good comedy, it provides the occasional unexpected belly laugh (usually at deadly serious moments). There are worse ways to spend a few hours.

Serious scientist being ignored by arrogant politician cliché moment. Teen romance jealousy cliché moment. Illicit sex interrupted by weather disaster cliché moment. Stalwart characters waiting to die together cliché moment. Character sacrificing self for good of others cliché moment. New York disaster involving the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building cliché moments. Ambulance arrival in the nick of time cliché moment. Contrite public official making inspirational speech cliché moment.

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