Anyone will know what to expect from a film such as this. Modeled closely on the cycle of 1970s disaster movies like Earthquake and Meteor, but inevitably given a 90s 'spin' and vastly improved special effects, this remains faithful to the genre. We are presented with a set of core characters, each given just enough efficient delineation for us to be at least interested in what happens to them if not really caring about them. Central to all of this is a young (pre-Lord of the Rings trilogy) Elija Wood a teenager who is the first to discover the cosmic anomaly and who is then caught up in the ensuing chaos as the chunk of rock draws ever nearer.
If Wood is a strong asset (the strongest perhaps being the impressive special effects themselves) then the biggest liability has to be the 'star' Tea Leoni. Her portrayal of an up-and-coming journalist is remarkably awkward and unengaging. One cannot call her character ambitious because, although clearly intended as such, the way Leoni plays it just doesn't warrant the use of the word. Leoni's dull as dishwater delivery is simply perplexing. It is impossible to tell what she is attempting to play for. Ultimately, she simply comes across as unconvincing and wooden. Every time she appears on screen she just saps energy out of the film.
As befits a film of the disaster genre, the plaudits should largely go to those responsible for everything bar the acting (although Morgan Freeman is a believably flawed President). The special effects are certainly special and blended into the epic photography remarkably well. The script is almost clinical in its efficiency, but director Mimi Leder deserves praise for her deft switching between genres (disaster, drama, SF, etc.) when the plot demands it, and for managing to keep the story rooted firmly in the personal dimension.
Having said that, the script remains, like much Hollywood product, resolutely and almost offensively US-centric. With what is clearly a global catastrophe looming large, the best the script can muster to acknowledge that this will be a global catastrophy is two measly sentences. One mentions meteor chunks landing in Canada and the second that a tidal wave caused by a piece landing of the coast of the Atlantic "...hit Europe and Africa too". Finally, to further cement the writer's skewed view of reality, although there are efforts to show the sort of social disruption such an event would bring with it, there is, frankly, simply not enough violence. Despite this global disaster there is not a single shot fired in the entire film - either by the authorities trying to keep order or by the thousands rampaging and looting in the streets that there would clearly be but are never really shown. (If you don't believe me - go back and check.) And this from a country that has a good year if there are only half a dozen cases of high school kids being lost to the random shootings of some deranged, socially dysfunctional ex-pupil. We are, indeed, in the realms of fantasy. 6/10
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