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The summer blockbuster season, like election campaigns and the NFL, seems to start earlier each year. This time around, the gun goes off this weekend as "Deep Impact" careens into a multiplex near you—and just think, they usually don't spend this kind of money on you until Memorial Day! Most avid moviegoers know by now that this is one of two "asteroids hitting the Earth" movies out this summer, proof that Hale-Bopp's close encounter inspired more than just mass suicides. "Impact" has the dubious distinction of being rushed out first, which doesn't bode well for its place in history. Yeah, it'll open big (I don't see "Black Dog" being much of a threat), but as the screening showed, this is one asteroid movie that might have wanted to stay in the oven a bit longer.
Tea Leoni stars as a scrappy cable newswoman who bemoans the fact that it'll take decades for her to get anywhere in the business. That is, until she stumbles upon a story that she believes will take down the presidency. Of course, that's just a ruse to get her in some hot water with the sunglass-wearing Feds; the real secret is that there is an asteroid heading for Earth, and unless the news is handled carefully, anarchy will rule. Morgan Freeman is the president of the U.S., and he carries out his role dutifully, evoking biblical references and whatnot in his most magnanimous tone.
A rescue mission is deployed, manned by some Gen-X hotheads who cross swords with the old expert Robert Duvall; indeed, Duvall is way too good an actor to be doing this stuff. The man could read the Des Moines Register Want Ads and still be enthralling, and he damn near has to do it here. There's something nagging and unfinished about "Impact" as a whole—a lot of lesser characters (and all of their parents) talk a lot to each other, but there's no thematic center. Other than "yikes, we're all screwed," and it seems that $80 million deserves a better leitmotif. A curious trend in movies these days is a wanton display of unseen carnage. Millions of people are beginning to die in these things; witness the nuclear bomb that went off in "The Peacemaker," or the fact that 3/5ths of America was vaporized in "Independence Day." In the old days, it was bad enough when we had to watch mob goons get shot in the face every ten seconds; now we have to accept the full-scale destruction of New York (pop. 25 million) as a plausible "plot development." And true to its nature, "Deep Impact" doesn't deny us a good body count—North Carolina in particular.
You may think I've given away a crucial element to the movie; I haven't. "Deep Impact" is one of the few blockbusters in history to give away the ending in the title, fer chrissake. We've all seen the "money shot" of the tidal wave already. And we've already heard that "hope will survive." Well, maybe. My hope is that the next asteroid movie is a little easier to digest.
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