Tuesday, November 17, 2009
For whatever reason, Roland Emmerich's disaster movies got worse and worse as I grew up. Independence Day was (and remains) and awesome helping of jokes, emotion, explosions, and lots and lots of cheese. I loved it then and love it now. I remember Godzilla being mostly laughable, but I've sat through it a few times on TV since then. But I cannot stand The Day After Tomorrow. I saw a couple scenes on FX (it's ALWAYS on FX these days), and I found it empty and boring. The one thing I will applaud is that Emmerich loves to center the action around a flawed, grounded everyman (Jeff Goldblum, Matthew Broderick, and Dennis Quaid). It holds true to the saying "It's amazing what humans are capable of when they must..."
I went into this movie expecting an awful mess of CG, no plot, and lots and lots of cheese. The first 20 minutes doesn't help the plot since they breeze through 3 years in a couple scenes while trying to introduce several different storylines. The good news is we don't spend too much time lounging around. The end is near. The sun's increased activity is melting the Earth's core and it's going to cause a shit-ton of problems (volcanoes, earthquakes, and tidal waves).
This time around, John Cusack walks us through armageddon. He's a has-been author/limo driver that barely sees his kids. He catches wind of the bad news from a conspiracy hippy nut (a hilarious Woody Harrelson) while camping at Yellowstone. And then just like that, it goes from bad to worse to worse-than-worst. California gets the Earthquake to end all earthquakes and Yellowstone blows it top like a hydrogen bomb. I enjoyed this much more than the disaster in The Day After Tomorrow because you can easily see the destruction. Instead of blizzards and rainstorms (low visibility), we clearly see the quakes, waves, and eruptions. Despite it being 100% CG, the visuals are pretty amazing.
And on top of that, the family dynamic is surprisingly NOT terrible. John Cusack has to run into LA and rescue his kids, ex-wife Amanda Peet, and her new boyfriend Tom McCarthy before it all goes to hell, and there subsequent trip around the world is fast paced and pretty entertaining. The supporting characters (Danny Glover, Oliver Platt (awesome), the bad guy from Serenity, the boss from Just Shoot Me, and some rich Russian guy) provide a wide range of people to be invested in.
However, the biggest and most glaring drawback is the goofy plot. It's hard to sit back and believe everything that's unfolding. The Dalai Lama drives a pick-up truck? We care about saving the giraffes? Wait, wait, wait... Africa???? Really? Plus, the tone is all over the map. There's subtle humor like Arnold's press conference (too bad it wasn't really Arnold), and the looks that John Cusack and Tom McCarthy share. There's a welcome intensity at some moments, but it's ruined with jokey gags like the one with the puppy. And finally, it seems like there's just an endless wave of death. Phone calls between people about to die. Seeing large groups of people wiped out. Watching some of the supporting characters sadly die... I just couldn't tell what this movie wanted to be.
If your smart, you already know what this movie is going to be. The destruction is ambitious and jaw-dropping, but the plot blows. The only saving grace that makes me consider sitting through this again when it's on FX is that most characters are worth watching. It's definitely a dumb movie, but still an entertaining, dumb movie.