The press was banned from the after-party for Roland Emmerich's "The Day After Tomorrow" last night — a bad sign, and a sure sign that the movie was no good.
Even this reporter, who gets his paycheck from the same company which made the film, 20th Century Fox, was unceremoniously booted from the Museum of Natural History as everyone else who'd endured the two-hour-plus ordeal filed by for the free food and cocktails.
A publicist for Fox — who bragged about my expulsion later to paparazzi — actually said to me, "It sounds like you're going to blackmail us. If you don't get into the party, you'll say the movie was bad."
Ah, well: No amount of edible swag could save "The Day After Tomorrow," a $200 million disaster film that is quite the disaster, indeed. (Although, let's face it, a shrimp and a diet Coke couldn't have hurt at that point.)
Hilariously awful in most places, with an incoherent script and questionable acting, "Day After" will come on Friday and the question will be: Can innumerable, mind-numbing special effects, nearly all of them created on a computer and placed in what can only be called a random order, overcome sheer inanity?
It's not like I'm a snob, either. I count Emmerich's "Independence Day" — or "ID4" as it became known — as one of my favorite films. But "ID4" had a strong script with, well, developed characters.
Bill Pullman and Will Smith, not to mention Mary McDonnell, Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox and Margaret Colin, made the otherwise preposterous story of aliens invading Earth seem plausible. They each had a tremendous nobility and spoke with wit and intelligence, and there was a feeling of a common threat and an equally shared goal.
None of this, not one bit of it, is evident in "The Day After Tomorrow." This fish stinks from the head down, the head in this case being Emmerich's president (Perry King) and vice president (Kenneth Welsh).
Unlike Pullman in "ID4," this president is a bumbling idiot, a puppet manipulated by his evil, self-motivated vice president. I guess this is supposed to be a clever reference, but it backfires instead, disarming the film and undermining it critically.
You see, when America is imperiled in a disaster film, it's the president to whom we turn as the moral compass. The hero — in this case, a poorly conceived one played by Dennis Quaid — can have all the adventures, but he must report ultimately to a fair and wise leader.
For example: If Batman walked in on Commissioner Gordon taking a bribe, all hope would be lost. That's what happens in "Day."
Quaid's storyline doesn't help matters. His Jack Hall is a "climatologist" who knows that global warming may catalyze a new ice age. When tornados hit Hollywood and start ripping up other cities instantaneously, he still lets his moody high-school-age son (Jake Gyllenhaal) go to New York on a school outing.
After the son leaves, and Quaid realizes that the world may be ending, he decides that in order to bond with the boy he will brave the calamitous floods, blizzards, hurricanes and tidal waves bearing down on the Northeast corridor and walk — yes, walk, if he must — from Washington, D.C. to Manhattan just to show the boy he cares, he really, really cares.
His trek replaces Diane Keaton's walk through the snowy Russian woods in "Reds" as the most ill-conceived hike in movie history.
For some reasons that are unexplained, Quaid takes with him on this quest two buddies who you know will not make it. This is supposed to be noble just because it's noble.
Do these men have families of their own? Do they owe Quaid's character some debt? The answer to each of these questions is: We never know.
Is Jack's son either perilously young or terminally ill? No, and no. He is fully grown and able to take care of himself, or at least wait until the catastrophe passes to be reunited with dear old dad.
The rest of "Day After" is simply a rehash of past triumphs. The special effects are clearly from the Emmerich school: lots of stopped traffic, yellow cabs' horns honking furiously, crowds running in all directions from the oncoming horror of meteor-sized hail.
You've seen it before in "ID4" and "Godzilla." Whole cities are demolished and flood waters rise to the tops of buildings while the main characters fret that "things are getting really bad out there."
You'd think when the sea level rises to the chin of the Statue of Liberty people would be smart enough to evacuate themselves, if they are not already dead. But there's no logic at work here.
There's also a peculiar insensitivity, I think, to those of us who lived through September 11.
In "Day After," downtown New York, in an aerial view, is flooded with water and then snow. The whole thing resembles the billowing smoke that poured between the canyons of buildings on that horrible day from real life. Later, survivors are seen waving from rooftops of buildings, a grisly reminder of the tragic souls who made that mistake at the World Trade Center hoping for safety.
New Yorkers do not need to see our city in this condition, whether or not it's fantasy. I'd rather fly on the wings of soaring birds with Harry Potter than relive those grim images as entertainment.
The premiere last night, by the way, was preceded by a "red carpet" of fake snow which Fox sprinkled on the steps of the Museum of Natural History. The guests included Quaid, Gyllenhaal (along with his famous sister Maggie and their parents, plus the younger Gyllenhaals' respective beaux: Kirsten Dunst and Peter Sarsgaard), the lovely Sela Ward (she plays Quaid's wife, the Mary McDonnell role), Michele Lee (who came with "Good Morning America" film critic Joel Siegel), plus Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and Julianne Moore and Bart Freundlich.
I was told by an off-duty member of the NYPD that there were three security teams employed by Fox in addition to the police.
"And it's not like there are any really big stars here," observed the very nice cop, who wore a 9/11 pin on his lapel.
Then he changed his mind. "Don't let Dennis Quaid hear me saying that."