The first hour of 'Day' will arguably prove to be the most entertaining movie of the Summer, which makes it a shame that the second half doesn't live up to the standard. Disaster movies are all about knowing when to hit your audience. "Titanic" smartly left it till the end, films like "Armageddon" threaten it but never pay it off - rather inserting lots of mini-disasters to compensate.
Director Roland Emmerich's "Independence Day" built up its alien threat brilliantly and the attacks were spectacular, but then an hour was left to go and the groans began to arrive, culminating in arguably modern cinema's worst 'quick fix' solution (ie. a computer virus) to try and rush out a big bang at the end.
The good news is overall 'Day' is definitely better than ID4 and manages to be a hell of a fun time if you sit back and go with it. Like the former Emmerich film, this slowly builds up the threat which culminates in the film's two big action sequences - tornadoes ravaging Hollywood and a tsunami churning through the dense streets of lower Manhattan.
These scenes in themselves are superbly executed and awe-inspiring to watch. The build-up is fun too with quick cuts to other cities undergoing disasters and the standard hero (in this case a climatologist) screaming about disasters on the way to a disbelieving establishment. It starts out as fast paced Summer movie fare which follows the formula to the letter, but shows why that formula works so well.
Then comes the second half and the pace just grinds to a halt. With the main action over, the film changes tone from epic scale disasters to a more quiet little character study. The problem is this is a Summer action event movie - so what characters actually have any depth to explore as such? The resulting last hour is decent enough standard drama fare but after such a powerful first half it's jarring and a trifle dull.
A lot of that is due to an uneven focus between Quaid and Gyllenhaal, the former making a perilous cross-country journey but barely gets any screentime (short of one very "Vertical Limit"-esque sequence) to explore that, whilst the latter when not sitting around burning books, has a rather contrived (nevertheless fun) piece involving some CG wolves, a tanker ship and a rapidly descending quick freeze effect.
The other problem is a lot of the cliche movie elements which could be easily ignored in all the rushed activity early on suddenly become painfully obvious such as Sela Ward's rather awful piece about a terminaly ill kid she has to keep company.
Still there's some fun to be had although it's either slyly subtle or unintentional as there's no real deliberate laughs here. England's Royal Family get even more screwed up than they already are, Ian Holm and his tea-totting weather buddies joyfully mourn their fate in arguably the dullest workplace in Scotland, the portrayal of the upper levels of the US Government comes as a nice little dig at the administration, the constant getting of facts from Fox News (certainly the most 'unintentionally entertaining' of the cable news networks), the fun little digs at LA's culture during its destruction, and so on.
Actors wise everyone does the standard stuff for the genre, taking everything very seriously and trying not to hog the light from the real stars - the effects. Quaid's presence adds some credibility to it, but again much of the story concentrates on Gyllenhaal and friends whose story is a fine time passer but nothing captivating as its ' romantic jealousy' routine is very old hat.
An attempt to spice it up when the impossibly well-toned for a high school student Jake strips down to his boxers (from side on, crouched and at a distance so nothing really to see ladies, sorry) and his female friend tries to warm him by sharing body heat is logical but will really just draw guffaws more than anything.
In stark contrast to the jingo-istic ID4, 'Day' never overdoes the patriotism too much, involves the world in some ways, and at least tries to acknowledge that these events are so fast and extreme as to be unbelievable (even the likes of the Kyoto Accord at least get a reference). America doesn't save the day, in fact its more open ending is one of the better aspects to it (what else were they going to do, pour a bunch of salt into the ocean?).
Score is decent but nothing memorable and production design (aside from some of the sets) is oddly routine for such an expensive film. In the end though even though it was as cliched as hell, I damn well enjoyed it. An extremely entertaining fun first hour makes it worth seeing in the cinema, a decent but slow second hour stops it from becoming memorable or highly recommended. Flawed as hell, but good fun nonetheless.