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Deep Impact

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Deep Impact

Starring: Tea Leoni, Robert Duvall
Director: Mimi Leder
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: May 1998
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Drama

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A recent issue of the New Yorker magazine has a cartoon in which the man, reading the newspaper, says to his wife, "Now that everyone's in NATO, we don't have to take crap from Mars any more." Maybe not. But worldwide membership in that powerful security force is no match for humankind's most potent enemy: Nature. Recent disaster movies have had us poor beings inundated by twisters, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fire, and animals. We've been able to prevail, though not without great losses. Now comes yet another natural disaster, a comet which is speeding toward the planet on an treacherous trajectory which allows astronomers to predict the exact moment it will make a deep impact but leaves them almost powerful to prevent a tragedy. Almost, but not entirely. There is one hope, and is for a group of astronauts to travel to the speeding meteor and plant a nuclear device into it, throwing the entire inanimate godzilla into a tizzy as if to say, "Get off my planet!"

The younger set, expecting to see a dazzling show courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic for at least half the time, will be disappointed. The picture, directed by Mimi Leder ("The Peacemaker"), undergoes a woman's touch in focusing on sentiment and office politics. Whether this is to the good depends on your tolerance for the saccharine and your predilection for violence. If you weep the like of "Love Story" you'll go for the tearful partings of families and reconciliation of father and daughter. If you like sci-fi but with a deliberate pace of Robert Zemeckis's "Contact" or Andrew Niccol's "Gattaca," you will be sufficiently involved. If you've had enough of formulaic family feeling, you'll have reservations. "Deep Impact," then, is a cautiously paced tale of woe which will have you guessing: will the comet hit the earth or not? While it may be unconscionable to give away the answer in a review, here's a hint: the comet divides into two parts, a devastating, humongous rock and a relatively small hunk of astral projection.

"Deep Impact" begins as does many a thriller, with a scene designed to thrill audience adolescents. Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood), a bright-eyed high-school kid who calls teachers and parents "sir," is on an outing with his astronomy teacher, when he peers through the telescope and discovers an unknown body adjacent to two well-known stars. When a specialist in his lab (Charles Martin Smith) examines the body's orbit in his computer, he is so shocked at its trajectory that he drops his slice of pizza, jumps into his jeep with the evidence, and meets with catastrophe. As director Mimi Leder cuts to Hillary Clinton lookalike Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni), a career-driven TV news reporter, we find her investigating the resignation of the Secretary of the Treasury, whose departure she believes is not occasioned by his wish to spend more time with his sick wife. Believing that an expose of the affair he is allegedly having with someone named Ellie will spur her into the anchor's seat, she instead falls upon information about E.L.E., which means Extinction Level Event. A mean meteor is determined to wipe out all life on earth.

As astronaut Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall), nicknamed "Fish" because his name sounds like one, joins a mission to duel the big rock, tearful events occur back on earth among folks who believe that the mission will fail. Most important, newscaster Jenny Lerner decides to hate her dad (Maximilian Schell), who has recently divorced his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) to marry a bimbo two years old than Jenny. Much of the film treats the family split and ultimate reconciliation--as Jenny recalls the wonderful times she enjoyed at the age of five with the aging Jason. The other tear-evoking tale centers on young Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood), who has decided quickly to marry his sweetheart in order to make her eligible along with him for a safety program and she must choose whether to stay back home with her parents and die or to join her new, shotgun partner.

Morgan Freeman does a dignified job as the president of the United States, offering both hope and realism to the people of his country, as he prepares to transport one million designated by computer to be conveyed to a safe place in Missouri where they along with one pair of each animal species (sound familiar?) will survive and procreate.

The film has a few brief humorous moments, as when 17- year-old Biederman becomes famous for discovering the comet, and a classmate says in front of the other students in a school assembly program, "You're gonna have more sex starting now. Famous people always get more sex." Similarly, when the astronauts cynically ponder their fate in the rocketship "Messiah," one says, "Look at the bright side...we'll all get high schools named for us."

"Deep Impact" is a by-the-numbers disaster movie with just enough special effects to please the calamity-starved in the audience and, like other formulaic films, one in which various individuals are assigned problems they must either reconcile themselves to or gain reconciliation from. Despite its familiarity, it's a sincere work and, it should be added, one that's not so far off course. Just as some people hold that the earth was attacked by runaway comets several millenia ago and gained rebirth, others believe that such a calamity could happen again, at any time. After all, nature is neutral: it is not pro-U.S. or pro-Iran or even pro-earth and there's a lot of stuff up there.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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