Before its release, "The Day After Tomorrow" prompted argument over whether its science is any good. Now that it's on screen, the argument can shift to where it belongs - whether the filmmaking is any good.
I don't mean filmmaking in the visual-effect sense. Almost anyone can cook up walloping images these days, given a big enough budget. The movie succeeds well in this area, especially when it takes an orbiting satellite's perspective to show a fast-freezing Earth, entering a new Ice Age as a paradoxical result of global warming.
It's the global-warming topic that has grabbed headlines for the film, which takes for granted the idea that unchecked industrial activity could cause catastrophic climate changes. Debating the science behind the story is beside the point, though, since there isn't any. The screenplay uses global warming as a given, offering no facts or theories to back up its position.
From this conceptual starting point it proceeds to spin a science-fiction scenario wherein heat-circulation patterns cause a perfect storm that goes global within days. This is as implausible as it is hyperbolic, at least the way director Roland Emmerich tells it.
What slides into deep-freeze most quickly and permanently are any emotions you might have expected to feel during such a traumatic tale. The producers have assembled a talented but hapless cast, led by Dennis Quaid as a climatologist who slogs through what might be the end of the world in order to reach his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) for no sensible reason except that life-threatening treks are expected in stories like this.
Along the way, the characters utter some of the clumsiest dialogue in ages. Rarely have I heard a huge preview audience laugh so often in the wrong places.
All this amounts to a badly wasted opportunity, since global warming is a serious issue that deserves thoughtful treatment.
So stay home and read a scientific journal instead. This is a disaster movie that lives up to its label.
• Rated PG-13; contains sci-fi peril and death.