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Paul Clinton reviews "Deep Impact" in "Paul's Pix"
(2.5Mb QuickTime movie)

Review: 'Deep Impact' is a minor disaster

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Last summer, film studios buried us up to our eyeballs in lava when they whipped out two different volcano disaster films, "Volcano" and "Dante's Peak." This summer we're getting hit with two films about comets on a collision course with Earth. The first one out of the projector is "Deep Impact," starring Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni and Elijah Wood.

Téa Leoni

According to the makers of this film, there's a new acronym out there: ELE stands for an "extinction level event," You know the end of life as we know it. That's what's happening in "Deep Impact" as a huge comet the size of New York City comes crashing toward earth. (The last time this happened it was bye-bye, dinosaurs.) This action flick has high aspirations. It actually presumes to be about something. Not only do we get special effects and things that go boom, we also get the private, supposedly heartfelt reactions to the end of the world from a number of characters.

Morgan Freeman

Unfortunately, other than a huge traffic jam, there just isn't much human reaction to the end of the world in this film. But whatever is lacking in emotion is made up for is size "Deep Impact" has a huge cast. We are introduced to, and are supposed to care about, a TV news anchorwoman, played by Téa Leoni, her divorced parents, Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell, Morgan Freeman as the president of the United States, a teenage astronomer (Elijah Wood) and his girlfriend (Leelee Sobieski), both of their families, and an astronaut, played by Robert Duvall, plus his whole space team and their families! Whew! If it weren't that these people are incredibly boring, that would be a whole lot of caring going on.

As the film jerks and leaps forward, a government secret is uncovered, a million people take shelter underground, Duvall and his gaggle of astronauts attempt to blow up the comet with nuclear bombs, Freeman gives lots of press conferences, and Wood marries his 14-year-old girlfriend. Last, but not least, a big hunk of rock destroys New York City, and I don't mean Fabio.

I haven't given anything away. It's all in the promos. This isn't an awful movie, but it sure isn't great, either. The filmmakers want us to care about all these people, but we never really get to know them, and there is no sense of impending doom except when Leoni starts chugging martinis.

Movie like made-for-TV

All through the movie I kept waiting for a commercial break. This would have made a much better made-for-TV movie than it does a feature film. Heck, most of the cast are very familiar TV actors who make movie stars Redgrave, Schell, and especially Duvall stand out like sore thumbs.

Leelee Sobieski

It makes sense to know that director Mimi Leder learned her craft in television as one of the directors of the hit TV show "ER." (Not that's there's anything wrong with that.) But there were an awful lot of familiar faces from a certain Chicago emergency room in this film. Leder, who also directed "The Peacemaker," shows she's very adept at the logistics of filmmaking but short on providing emotional punch. In all fairness, though, the bland screenplay, by Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin, doesn't give her much to work with.

I have no problem suspending disbelief. A comet hitting earth? It could happen. Heck, it has happened. Robert Duvall as an geriatric astronaut? It could happen. Look at John Glenn. What I can't believe is, in the middle of the night, during a rainstorm, Téa Leoni sticks out her arm on a downtown Washington D.C. street and even though there are only 24 hours left before the world is destroyed, she immediately catches a cab! Couldn't happen. The trailer for "Armageddon," (due out in July) the other summer movie about a comet crashing into terra firma, looks like it has a lot more promise. It also has Bruce Willis. Regardless of the scenarios of both of these films, scientists at NASA have reportedly gone on record with the opinion that nuking an approaching comet wouldn't really work. If a comet the size of New York City ("Deep Impact"), or one the size of Texas ("Armageddon"), ever did hit Earth all we could do is watch and say goodbye.

The special effects are great, and there are some good moments. I'm sure this flick will have a huge opening weekend. But overall, "Deep Impact" is a film you should go to only if you really like this type of "disaster flick in a can." Rated PG-13. 120 minutes.

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