THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (PG-13, 123 minutes)
This disaster flick about the freakish and sudden onset of a new ice age deserves to sell a lot of popcorn to teenagers and adults alike. Never mind that its science seems murky or that certain lines of informational dialogue land with a clunk. Never mind that mass evacuations are ordered and then hardly shown, or that a fake-looking (and largely bloodless) attack by hungry wolves amounts to a pointless digression. Never mind all that because "The Day After Tomorrow" is a ripsnorter -- well acted, visually convincing (enough to make you duck the tidal waves and tornadoes on-screen) and laced with humor while holding sentimentality mostly at bay.
Many preteens will want to see the film, too, and that should depend on each kid's ability to handle the stress and anxiety in a yarn like this. It contains minimal profanity, one brief make-out scene with partially unbuttoned clothing, another milder bit of sexual innuendo and a few shots of wounds with quick hints of blood or infection. It is implied, but not graphically shown, that the aforementioned wolves get clobbered. Emotional themes involve people separated from loved ones, a selfless suicide and a subplot about a dying child in a hospital. There are also frozen corpses. But it is the portrayal of natural disasters that earns the PG-13 rating -- tornadoes destroying Los Angeles, a tidal wave inundating Manhattan, killer hail in Tokyo -- all followed by a deep freeze.
Naturally, this Hollywood movie focuses on the United States, and gets in a few not-so-subtle jabs at the current administration's policy on global warming. Dennis Quaid plays Jack, a government climatologist whose alarms go unheeded until disaster strikes. While he is in Washington, his teenage son (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in Manhattan, holed up with friends at the New York Public Library trying to ride out the storm. Jack, separated from his doctor wife (Sela Ward) and guilty over his often-absentee fatherhood, decides to brave the storm's fury and go to his son.
RAISING HELEN (PG-13, 119 minutes)
Even Kate Hudson's winning ways can't keep this often diverting, but long and painfully cliched family comedy afloat. Teen girls will surely like her and appreciate the story's humor and sentiment, but faults in the script and in Garry Marshall's uneven direction lend the film a disjointed air. Certain scenes work, and others just lie there. There is a near-fatal lack of chemistry between Hudson and leading man John Corbett. Corny music montages mark happy and sad turns of plot, serving as Spackle to cover holes in the narrative. "Raising Helen" includes gently implied sexual situations between adults, adults smoking, hints of teen experimentation with sex, teens drinking and smoking, mild profanity and themes of sudden loss and crushing grief.
Hudson is immensely likable as the title character, a self-absorbed executive at a Manhattan modeling agency. Her fast-track life screeches to a halt after a tragic accident makes her the legal guardian of her oldest sister's kids (Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin and Abigail Breslin), each of whom handles the loss differently. "Raising Helen" is at its best when she bonds with the kids, reevaluates her own life and fends off advice from her naggy middle sister (wonderful Joan Cusack). As a minister and principal of the Lutheran school where Helen enrolls the kids, Corbett seems at a loss trying to make their underwritten romance ignite.