Snow Day (United States, 2000)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

No matter how old you grow, you never forget the rare and special magic associated with a snow day. There's nothing quite like the experience of waking up to a virgin blanket of white, and realizing that, at least for one day, the normal drudgery of lectures, quizzes, and homework has been suspended in favor of building snow forts and snowmen, and engaging in snowball fights. Of course, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and a day off now has to be made up later. But, somehow, going one extra day in June seems to be a bargain for an unexpected vacation in the heart of winter.

Chris Koch's feature debut, Snow Day (not to be confused with Snow Days, an indie romantic comedy that played at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival), uses the concept of a snow day as the backdrop for a fantasy/comedy that, at its best, is cute, and, at its worst, is uninspired. This is one of those low-intelligence pictures aimed squarely at the under-11 crowd that doesn't do much to endear itself to older viewers (unless you're one of the nine active members of the Chevy Chase fan club or the five active members of the Chris Elliot fan club). The biggest laughs are reserved for the flatulence jokes and the scenes in which the school principal is pelted with snowballs.

The action takes place in Syracuse, New York on the day when a record snowfall paralyzes the community, shutting schools and businesses, and keeping nearly everyone stranded at home. In the Branston household, this means that workaholic mom, Laura (Jean Smart), has to telecommute while taking care of her toddler son, Randy. Tom (Chevy Chase), the only weather man in town who predicted the storm, is out doing on-the-spot weather feeds for Channel 6 while trying to win a ratings battle with his vacuous-but-charismatic rival. (Unanswered question: how does Tom manage to get to work when Laura is snowed in?) The oldest son, Hal (Mark Webber), pursues Claire (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the most unattainable girl in school, while remaining oblivious to the romantic feelings harbored for him by his best friend, tomboy Lane (Schuyler Fisk). And Natalie (Zena Grey), conspires with her friends to highjack the snowplow driven by the dreaded Snow Plow Man (Chris Elliott), and bring a mythical second consecutive snow day to Syracuse.

Of the four distinct plots laid out over the course of Snow Day, the ones with the kids are the most enjoyable. Hal's romance, although entirely by-the-numbers, works to a limited degree because the characters (and the actors playing them) are appealing. Likewise, the fantasy elements associated with Natalie's quest to stop Snow Plow Man give those sequences a certain entertainment value. On the other hand, I found the mother/toddler bonding scenes to be lackluster, although not as tedious as Chevy Chase's screen appearances. Chase is a comedian who hasn't done anything vaguely amusing in over a decade but still thinks his every move will cause uncontrollable fits of laughter. If he gets a chuckle from a lone member of the audience during the course of this movie, he's lucky.

The only time that Snow Day approaches a level of inventiveness is during the Natalie/Snow Plow Man battles. Elliott plays the film's villain as an unfriendly, antisocial party pooper with bad teeth and a pet crow. He's the kind of guy who will plow in a driveway just to force someone to dig out. (Then again, don't all snow plows do that?) And, for Natalie, he represents malevolence personified, because his clearing of the streets is the reason the kids only get one day off. This year, with a little help from her friends and some inspiration from a cartoon fantasy action hero, she's determined to end Snow Plow Man's reign of terror.

Snow Day appears designed to fill the family film vacancy found inside multiplexes at this time of year. It's one of those movies that doesn't try to please adults as well as kids, which can make it a little bit of a trial to sit through for anyone trapped into chaperoning a group of youngsters. The best family films are those that find something to captivate everyone, regardless of age. Snow Day neither aspires to nor attains that category.

Snow Day (United States, 2000)

Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2000-02-01
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1