Directed by Roland Emmerich, starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Kenneth Welsh and Ian Holm.

In recent times we've had disasters stemming from volcanoes ('Dante's Peak', 'Volcano'), out-of-control meteorites ('Armageddon', 'Deep Impact') and even the disintegration of the earth's electromagnetic field ('The Core'). Director Roland Emmerich has already dipped his toe in the disaster film genre with 'Independence Day's invading aliens and Godzilla attacking New York, but 'The Day After Tomorrow' is on another (doomsday) level entirely. With a shaky basis in real scientific predictions, this is environmental disaster on a worldwide scale.

From his study of environmental damage on the planet, maverick climatologist Jack Hall (Quaid, looking like he might start stepping on Harrison Ford's action hero shoes) believes that a new ice age is coming. He's a lone voice, however, laughed at by most of his peers and ignored by a baddie American Vice President (Welsh) who's firmly against the Kyoto Agreement. But that's until a series of events around the world - giant killer hailstones in Tokyo, rapid ocean rise in Canada, snow in New Delhi - makes everyone realise that Something Bad is about to happen. Jack's predictions are starting to come true, much sooner than he predicted, and a cataclysmic climate shift is about to turn most of the Northern Hemisphere into a giant ice-cube.

But the end of the world as we know it is only the least of Jack's worries. His son (Gyllenhaal) Sam is in New York at a quiz with two schoolmates - top totty Laura (Rossum) and some other forgettable character, all looking much older than high school students - when Manhattan gets swamped by a wall of water and then starts to freeze. They take refuge in the Public Library and Jack - absentee father overcompensating - vows to come and find him. After telling everybody in no uncertain terms that they will die of the cold unless they stay indoors, Jack sets out, on foot, to New York.

Emmerich has got the disaster part right - the special effects are truly spectacular - but he's weak on the character side of things, which slows matters considerably down in the wake of the catastrophe. Wooden dialogue and some incredibly corny sentiment (a whole cinema laughing at one po-faced character advising another "tell her how you feel" can't be a good sign) drags attention away from the action but Emmerich - just - redeems himself with some anti-establishment, tongue-in-cheek touches. He blatantly tells the US that they're responsible for global warming, kills off the British Royal Family and shows Mexico closing its borders to American refugees.

If disaster movies are your thing, then 'The Day After Tomorrow' delivers, showing giant tornadoes, 'Twister'-style, ripping up the Hollywood sign, an enormous wave making its way through New York City and awesomely portentous clouds throughout. Just don't expect the same depth from the characters involved.

Caroline Hennessy