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That 70s Show

The disaster flick revisited

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The end-of-the-world extravaganza The Day After Tomorrow could stand to be stupider.

That's not to say that Mensa members will feel mentally stimulated after watching this latest infomercial on global property destruction from the director of Independence Day and the ill-fated Godzilla remake. It's just that when it comes to making a big, loud, occasionally laughable but undeniably fun disaster flick, Roland Emmerich could have taken an extra page or two from the genre pictures that dominated the 70s.

Global warming is the culprit here, with man's disregard for his surroundings leading to abrupt climate changes that within a matter of days leads to a new ice age that conveniently covers only half the globe (after all, it'd be a downer -- not to mention a short movie -- if they killed off everybody on the planet). The film's science is, to put it mildly, suspect; many environmentalists have already debunked the film's events (though they hasten to add that its eco-friendly message should nevertheless be taken seriously). Still, this sort of goofiness is in line with 70s disaster flicks, as is the high caliber of the special effects. Whether it's witnessing the Statue of Liberty submerged in water up to her armpit or watching a tornado shred the omnipresent "Hollywood" sign in Los Angeles, this movie delivers on an "apocalypse wow" level.

But the cast? Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko), Ian Holm, Sela Ward -- these are all highly respected performers, and the supporting cast is equally as notable. Where are the has-been movie stars, the marginal celebrities, the wooden athletes? The Airport series at least had the decency to showcase the likes of Charo, Jimmie "Dy-No-Mite!" Walker and Helen Reddy as a singing nun, while The Towering Inferno found a role for O.J. Simpson. And the makers of Earthquake even possessed the ingenuity to cast 52-year-old Ava Gardner as 59-year-old Lorne Greene's daughter. Clearly, The Day After Tomorrow could have benefited from the presence of, say, Ralph Macchio, Kobe Bryant, Clay Aiken or Michael Jackson as a singing priest.

And the dialogue? Granted, it's pretty awful in spots (Emmerich's direction is better than his script), but it's noticeably lacking in howlers worthy of Hall of Shame inclusion. Certainly, there's nothing here to match General Richard Widmark's immortal line in The Swarm -- "Houston on fire. Will history blame me or the bees?" -- or the lovey-dovey exchange between stewardess Sylvia Kristel and pilot George Kennedy in The Concorde: Airport '79 -- "You pilots are such men!" "Well, they don't call it a cockpit for nothing!"

The Day After Tomorrow does contain one novelty. While films of this ilk usually feature a generic Commander-In-Chief ("And Henry Fonda as the President") and his nameless, faceless staff, this picture has clearly cast actors who resemble George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and then proceeds to play up the similarities. The Vice President (Kenneth Welsh) is a humorless bureaucrat with no interest in the environment or in working with other countries, while the President (Perry King) is a clueless man-child (decked out in sports garb when we first see him) who, when pressed for his advice on how to handle the impending catastrophes, turns to his VP and asks, "What do you think we should do?" Looks like Michael Moore's eagerly anticipated Fahrenheit 9/11 won't be the only movie this summer hoping to cast a big chill over the White House.

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