The Critics: video

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Deep Impact (12). Though admittedly nowhere near as asinine or assaultive as this year's other meteor movie (Michael Bay's execrable Armageddon), Mimi Leder's second feature (following the nuclear-weapon thriller, The Peacemaker) represents Hollywood at its most

formulaic: a "human-spirit" drama in the guise of an effects-laden disaster movie. A plucky television news reporter (Tea Leoni) thinks she's happened upon a scandal that involves the president (Morgan Freeman) and a mistress named Ellie. It turns out that the government secret in question is actually an ELE, an Extinction Level Event, and that a comet the size of New York City is due to wipe out the human race within a year. A space mission (led by Robert Duvall) is deployed to nuke the offending rock; meanwhile, everyone on earth is left to learn valuable life lessons in the face of death. In theory at least, Deep Impact is a film of an increasingly rare breed: a disaster movie that dares to contemplate, with some seriousness, the agonising human cost of disaster. But, in the script by Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, this high-mindedness translates as tortured hand-wringing and trite sentiment. (The preposterous tag line promises: "Oceans rise, cities fall, hope survives.") Leder saves the showiest effects for the final few minutes, sinking Manhattan with a massive tidal wave. The destruction is spectacular and carried out with customary disaster-movie glee, though here it just makes the preceding attempts at anguish seem even cheaper and more cynical.

U-Turn (18). Lurid and determinedly vapid, Oliver Stone's worst film in years combines noir and western elements in a slapdash fashion that's neither entertaining nor illuminating. Sean Penn plays a weaselly two-bit criminal who, en route to Las Vegas, finds himself stuck in an Arizona hellhole populated exclusively by grotesques: Billy Bob Thornton as a greasy, plainly inbred mechanic; Jon Voight as a blind Indian wise man; Nick Nolte as a sadistic real-estate agent; Jennifer Lopez as his seductive Apache wife; Claire Danes as a trailer-trash bimbo (the director's reflexive

misogyny is here even more pronounced than usual). Filmed in a jittery, ungainly style that's not so much experimental as completely sloshed, U-Turn basically excerpts the worst bits of Natural Born Killers and amplifies them to an even more unbearable pitch. It's amazing just how much the movie gets wrong, considering how little it has on its mind to begin with.

Going All the Way (15). This first feature by MTV veteran Mark Pellington is as misguidedly ostentatious as U-Turn. But at least there's a story struggling to emerge from beneath the superfluously jazzy surface. Based on a novel by Dan Wakefield (who also wrote the screenplay), the film traces the fairly predictable coming of age of two chalk-and-cheese GIs returning home to 1950s midwestern America. The script lacks depth and consistency, and the acting is sub-par - Jeremy Davies as the withdrawn, unstable one, is overly twitchy and Ben Affleck, as the easy- going jock, is all too obviously limited - but there are flashes of emotional

credibility throughout.