Roland Emmerich's eco-conscious disaster picture features breakout performances by the twisters that suck up the "Hollywood" sign, the killing frost that covers the Statue of Liberty with icicles and the tsunami that swamps Manhattan. If only the flesh-and-blood cast had such material with which to work. Divorced workaholic paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) tries to warn the world's leaders that global warming is melting the polar ice caps and paving the way for a new ice age. But between America's namby-pamby president (Perry King, looking surprisingly presidential for the erstwhile star of THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY and CLASS OF 1984) and anti-environmentalist vice-president (Kenneth Walsh, whose resemblance to vice-president Dick Cheney is undoubtedly intentional), his admonitions fall on deaf ears until the global climate goes wild. Faster than you can say "Strange Weather," snow blankets India, softball-sized hunks of hail pelt Tokyo, helicopters drop from the Scottish sky, their fuel lines flash frozen, and soaking rains swamp New York City, where Jack's vaguely estranged 17-year-old son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), is competing in an academic decathlon. Hall finally has the government's attention, but it's too late to do much more than evacuate the southern half of the country to Mexico and leave everyone up North to freeze. Jack's ex-wife, Dr. Lucy Hall (Sela Ward), maintains a selfless vigil by the bedside of a critically ill child while Jack and his loyal associates (Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders) trudge from Washington, D.C., to New York to rescue Sam. Like Emmerich's INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) and GODZILLA (1998), this popcorn scare picture is a lopsided mix of top-shelf spectacle and cut-rate casting. The spectacle is undeniably spectacular, though many of the CGI effects are so patently artificial they seem more suited to a video game than a major motion picture — especially the timberwolves that hurtle around like hairy, jet-propelled rockets. The generally competent B-list actors are hobbled by cliché-ridden dialogue but do their best to react in remotely plausible ways each time the script nails them with some new melodramatic contrivance. Were Oscar Wilde alive, he'd lead a chorus of derisive laughter at every appearance of the brave little cancer-stricken child with failing eyesight and a trembling smile. Called upon to comment on the film's doomsday scenario, various real-life experts dutifully lauded the consciousness-raising intent but found the overnight apocalypse implausible. Of course, that's what all those world leaders say when Dr. Hall sounds the warning, and look what becomes of them.
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