This first of two summer blockbusters pitting Earth against a celestial wrecking ball is a three-hankie weeper in disaster-movie drag, and its tear-jerking bull's-eyes are separated by long stretches of tedium. Rising young reporter Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) goes looking for a White House sex scandal and finds instead that the government has been sitting on the information that there's a massive comet on a collision course with Earth. Jenny's career skyrockets as her relationship with her parents crumbles: Her father (Maximilian Schell) has just married a woman half his age, while her mother (Vanessa Redgrave) hides despair beneath a brittle facade of gaiety. A team headed up by aging astronaut Spurgen Tanner (Robert Duvall) is dispatched to nuke the comet, but when the portentously named Messiah mission fails, the President (Morgan Freeman) declares martial law and initiates the "Ark" lottery, which will decide who will live (in a DR. STRANGELOVE-esque underground cave complex) and who will die. It's a nice change of pace that the focus here is the human impact of impending mass destruction, rather than the testosterone-drenched mechanics of kicking wayward comet tail. But most of the individuals singled out for their own storylines aren't terrifically interesting. By far the dullest are adolescent astronomer Leo (Elijah Wood) and his gal Sarah (Leelee Sobieski), whose puppy love is put to the ultimate test when his family is chosen and hers isn't. Leoni has TV-babe looks but none of the breezy authority that makes successful on-air personalities, and whenever she has a scene with Redgrave you can only wonder how a woman so vibrant and multifaceted produced such a shallow daughter. As to the Messiah crew, it's a good thing they're cast with an eye to ethnic and gender diversity because otherwise you wouldn't be able to tell them apart. DEEP IMPACT was followed into theaters by Michael Bay's ARMAGEDDON, in which space roughnecks save the world from falling debris.