October 9, 2020

Deep Impact (1998)
Grade: 51/100

Director: Mimi Leder
Stars: Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Morgan Freeman

What it's about. A big comet is on a collision course with Earth. The comet is discovered by teenager Elijah Wood, in his pre-Frodo days, while looking through a Best Buy telescope. Wood becomes a celebrity, but he is an unchanged nice guy and still true to his hottie girlfriend Leelee Sobieski.

The U.S. President is Morgan Freeman, and he dispatches an astronaut crew to intercept the comet and attempt to blow it up with nuclear weapons. The astronauts are led by senior citizen Robert Duvall.

Beautiful Téa Leoni is the first media reporter to break the story of the killer comet. Leoni's divorced parents are Vanessa Redgrave and Maximillian Schell. Schell is remarried to much younger Rya Kihlstedt, to Leoni's angst.

James Cromwell plays a retired government official. Laura Innes is Leoni's news producer boss. There are many other characters, be they astronauts, or relations to young lovers Wood and Sobieski.

Deep Impact has a plot similar to another blockbuster from the same year, Armageddon. Both even have a Russian astronaut as a supporting character. In both films, the first-billed actor sacrifices his life to save mankind.

The films are different, though, in that Armageddon was largely a Bruce Willis vehicle, while Deep Impact was an ensemble film. Also, Armageddon was more of a comedy, a blessing relative to Deep Impact which takes itself far too seriously.

How others will see it. Deep Impact was a box office smash, but it was mostly ignored by the most prestigious film festivals. The Saturn Awards did nominate it for Best Science Fiction Film.

Today at imdb.com, the disaster movie has a big 160K user votes. The user rating of 6.2 out of 10 is only okay-plus, but it does rise to 6.6 among women over 45, who presumably identify more strongly with Leoni's character.

The user reviews are more positive than its user rating would suggest. Viewers find the plot machinations moving, such as that tearjerker scene where Sarah's mother hands over her infant child to Elijah and his motorbike, in the hopes that the baby as well as Sarah will be saved.

How I felt about it. Problems with Deep Impact are evident rapidly. Teenagers Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski seem to know the exact location of every visible star in the Northern Hemisphere. What are the odds he would point the telescope right at the distant comet? What are the odds that a hot teenaged girl would be right next to him, flirting outrageously, and all he seems to care about is showing his teacher that he knows where all the stars are?

Professor Wolf dies in a tragic car accident. But this scene has no purpose. Why kill off his character at all? It would if his confirmation of the comet was thus lost, but it wasn't. Who cares if bureaucrat James Cromwell is having an affair? Why would Robert Duvall pilot his craft into the path of a hundred huge rocks likely to take out his crew before even landing?

Other eye rolling scenes have the comet passing (very slowly) parallel to, and directly above, the cars stuck in traffic. How would a spacecraft intended for Earth orbit be suitable to intercept a comet millions of miles from Earth?

Te´a Leoni doesn't like her needy and annoying father. So why would she choose to die with him on the beach? Why does MSNBC appear to be the only cable news network, and why does Leoni apparently become its only anchor? How can Elijah Wood outrun a monster tidal wave that supposedly makes it to the Ohio Valley?

It is supposed to be hilarious, instead of a groaner, when the obnoxious teenage joker exclaims "You're going to have more sex than anyone else in our class!" Yes, every girl will want to have sex with the boy who discovered the comet that will soon wipe out most life on Earth.

It is true that Deep Impact was a commercial success, which validates its use of famous veteran actors. But they are mostly miscast. Duvall, Redgrave, and Schell seem too old for their roles. Leoni is beautiful, but her many close-ups don't make her any less boring. But the biggest problem of all isn't the many dubious scenes and plot holes. There are simply too many subplots and co-stars. And most of them aren't that interesting.