By Stephanie Zacharek
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By far, the most creative thing about Snow Day is its clever integration of the studio logo into the narrative at the very beginning. As a man shovels snow from his driveway, a gigantic snowball falls from the sky and crushes his house. It's a wonderfully anarchic moment, boding well for things to come, until the snowball morphs into the circular orange Nickelodeon logo and everything else fades out. From there, we are treated to a field of free-floating molecules, as sensitive teen protagonist Hal (Mark Webber) explains to all the young 'uns in attendance how snow begins with hydrogen and oxygen. (Fear not, kids, the educational tone doesn't persist for very long.) Pull out, macroscopically speaking, until the molecules blend together into a lone snowflake that falls from the sky, as Hal proceeds to tell us that we're about to see the story of a day "that changed the lives of me and my family forever."
By the story's end, Hal will be telling us, "You never really know how a snow day's gonna turn out." Really? Let's test that theory. Can you possibly guess whether school will be closed because of snow? Whether Hal's younger sister, Natalie (Zena Grey), will thwart the machinations of the evil Snowplowman (Chris Elliott, acting like the meaner alcoholic sibling of Jim Varney's Ernest)? Whether Hal will end up in the arms of the class babe or the longtime platonic friend (Sissy Spacek's daughter, Schuyler Fisk) whose affections he's never noticed? Whether Hal's meteorologist father (Chevy Chase) will finally trump his flashy rival, Chad Symmonz (John "Bo Duke" Schneider, channeling Phil Hartman)? Whether Hal's workaholic mom (Jean Smart) will realize the true importance of family? Whether the token fat kid will be the butt (pun intended) of several fart jokes?
Not that younger kids have a problem with predictability in their movies. However, parents expecting the generally smarter fare of previous Nickelodeon efforts, like Harriet the Spy and Rugrats, may be disappointed that this effort is more akin to Good Burger. Thankfully, those adults fearing the worst of Chevy Chase will also be spared, as the man is generally restrained here and gets at least one bona fide funny line in (that, naturally, has been featured in the preview already): When workaholic Mom arrives home late for dinner for the umpteenth time, Chase simply stares and deadpans, "And you are . . . ?" The biggest laughs for adults, in fact, are likely to come from Iggy Pop (yes, you read that correctly) in a cameo as an adult-contemporary DJ who plays Al Martino records nonstop. The irony will be lost on the Nickelodeon generation (as will a scene in which a lovelorn Hal listens to Foreigner!), but never mind. That's what the rest of the movie is for.
The bottom line with a movie like this is, simply, will it shut the kids up for an hour and a half? The answer is, probably. The adults are sufficiently buffoonish and the children sufficiently energetic to hold an audience's interest. The film might have created a better payoff if the evil school principal had been seen committing some heinous acts (all he really does is laugh evilly and mutter some nonsense about isosceles triangles) before receiving his constant comeuppance, but oh well. Those who have always wanted to throw snowballs at their own principal but feared the consequences will derive ample vicarious thrills. Primary villain Chris Elliott is not exactly at his best here (and I'm a fan of Cabin Boy), but he gives off a sleazy aura that would probably scare preteens if they were to meet such a character in reality. On-screen, of course, justice is served, kid-style.
There does seem to be one notable inconsistency in the film's tone, however: The teen-romance story line that Hal pursues is skewed to a different demographic than the slapstick Natalie vs. the Plowman adventure. In at least two scenes, the school beauty queen whom Hal is pursuing wears see-through shirts that leave nothing to the imagination. Maybe this is the fashion nowadays in high school, but it looks incongruous in a Nickelodeon movie, given that the cable channel generally aims at a preteen audience.
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