The film opens with the discovery of the doomsday comet by an amateur astronomy buff, Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood). As if that weren't enough bad luck, the movie proceeds to segue into a tragic act that has little purpose and virtually no relation to the rest of the film.
But then things get rolling again as the film picks up the action one year later. An MSNBC reporter, Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) has stumbled upon the scoop of a lifetime. Thinking she is delving into yet another Capitol Hill sex scandal, she blunders her way into unveiling the government's secret preparations to avoid Armageddon.
President Beck (Morgan Freeman) has been working with the Russians to build the largest spacecraft in history, the Messiah. An international team of astronauts and cosmonauts (Ron Eldard, Blair Underwood, Jon Favreau, Mary McCormack, and Alexander Baluyev) are joined by Apollo pilot Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall) in their mission to divert the comet.
Of course, a disaster flick wouldn't be a disaster flick if it didn't have the mandatory cross-society slice of life. To that extent, we meet Jenny's estranged parents (Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell, no less), and reunite with the now famous Biedermans, to see how various families cope with the potential end of the world.
Watching Deep Impact, you get the feeling that you're being left out of the loop. There's some interesting information that's going on just underneath the surface, but the film never quite lets you get a good look. Take the pre-apocalypse baby boom for example, or the riots and civil unrest that accompany the harbinger of doom. The movie presents you with conclusions, but never explains the details of the argument. It gives you a synopsis of events, but never makes you feel like you are there.
The pool of talent definitely isn't lacking in the film. However, when you've got Freeman, Duvall, Redgrave and Schell in the background, Tea Leoni and Elijah Wood can't quite compete. To be fair, they do a decent job, but are simply outclassed.
The character writing doesn't help them out that much, either. To further the plot, and raise suspense, several of the main characters in the film are forced to make wincingly bad decisions. These are decisions that no sane man (and few crazy ones) would dare make.
At least the film has some good eye candy to divert your attention. The special effects are good, but not as awe inspiring as they should be. That's probably the result of the recent glut of disaster pictures. After seeing mass destruction in every other movie, one quickly develops a blasť attitude. Still, there are a few impressive scenes.
Overall, Deep Impact isn't by far a perfect disaster film, but it has its entertaining moments. It's nothing to rush out to see, but a good way to pass the time during a matinee.
[PG-13 - intense disaster-related elements and brief language] (Dreamworks/Paramount)