Meteor: Path to Destruction (2009)

Directed by: Ernie Barbarash
Starring: Bill Campbell, Marla Sokoloff, Jason Alexander, Stacy Keach, Michael Rooker, Mimi Michaels, Ernie Hudson

Is it a good idea to put comedy actors in leading roles in what is meant to be a suspenseful drama? I guess it depends on how you handle it. Certainly, comedic actors can do great dramatic work, but there’s also the risk/chance that their presence will signal a humorous slant to the story, whether intended or not. I’m afraid that introducing Christopher Lloyd and Jason Alexander as brilliant scientists during the opening minutes of NBC’s two-parter Meteor doesn’t really add to the credibility of the plot.

Now, I love Christopher Lloyd, but he will always be the crazy scientist guy from Back to the Future, so when he explains that an asteroid the size of Manhattan is headed for Earth, I’m not exactly shivering in fear. And if I had been, I don’t think I would’ve felt any safer when Lloyd calls his ex-boss at JPL for help, and it turns out to be George Costanza from Seinfeld

The asteroid 114 Kassandra has collided with some other space rock, setting it on a collision course with Earth. While the debris from the collision starts to rain down over the planet in the form of meteors, dramatically referred to as ”harbingers”, a task force is set up to handle the crisis. The team is headed by General Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, and Dr. Costanza from Seinfeld is brought in to calculate the exact trajectory of Kassandra. Only he can’t, because mad genius professor Christopher Lloyd is the only one who has the correct algorithms, and he is currently on his way by car from Mexico, together with his hot young assistant (Marla Sokoloff), to deliver his calculations in person. Apparently, neither the Internet, regular phones nor mobile phones are reliable enough to do the job.

Unfortunately, Christopher and Marla didn’t remember to stop for gas before hitting the road with the fate of the entire planet in their hands. Consequently, they run out of gas somewhere in rural Mexico, and Christopher Lloyd manages to walk into the middle of the road to get hit and killed by a van. Maybe you should just have emailed the data, professor?

This leaves Marla to try to get the laptop with the late professor’s calculations to the task force all by herself. Which is the beginning of a ridiculous comedy of errors, as she first encounters mexican bandidos who want to rape her; then is detained by a customs officer who senses something not quite right when a young girl with a revolver in a Mexican police car claims to be a scientist out to save the world. Can we really blame him? Marla manages to convince him she’s telling the truth, and the officer volunteers to drive her to Andrews Air Force Base, but on the way they have an accident (involving meteors and a burning tank truck) which wrecks their car and leaves the customs officer dead. So Marla continues on foot, next encountering a couple of menacing redneck types…

If Marla’s wild adventures aren’t enough for you, you’ll be happy to know that this storyline is intercut with a couple of others:
1.) We get to follow a police officer played by Bill Campbell, as he desperately hunts his ex-partner, a demented Michael Rooker, who for some reason is out to kill Bill’s daughter (Mimi Michaels) and dad (Stacy Keach). Stacy is the sheriff of Taft, California, and is just about the only redeeming feature in this movie. He has a nice scene where he disarms a survivalist asshole guy. I like Stacy.
2.) In an attempt to inject some emotionally gripping drama, we also join a female doctor and her son, who get trapped inside a hospital after the building is hit by a meteor, while her husband fights to get in and rescue them. These characters are so amazingly bland and this subplot so utterly boring it is hard to even stay awake.

Despite the various perils she encounters, assistant Marla manages to get corrected calculations to Dr. George Costanza at Meteor Crisis HQ, making it possible for the military to send a flotilla of nukes towards the approaching asteroid. Everyone celebrate as the missiles seem to destroy the threat – until Marla realizes that the initial collision that sent the rock hurtling towards Earth also split the asteroid into two pieces, meaning that the second piece is still on its way to destroy the planet. And meaning that this already bloated story gets even longer as we have to suffer through another round of attempts to deliver revised calculations while everything that could concievably go wrong does so. The dénouement is suitably preposterous.

I don’t expect this to happen very often in my career, but watching Meteor: Path to Destruction actually gave me a new appreciation for the films produced by The Asylum. Meteor looks okay in the photography and art departments, it features quite a few recognizable faces, and I’m sure it cost a hell of a lot more to make than, let’s say, 2012 Supernova, but scriptwise it’s just as bad – if not worse. The various plot contrivances and ridiculous coincidences are laughable. I was particularly fascinated by how the meteorites seemed to have a sense of justice, frequently striking to save our heroes from various indignities: Marla Sokoloff is saved from an attempted rape when a meteor hits the building, and later a young boy is rescued from a couple of bullies as another meteor hits the schoolbus.

So yes, you can have some fun watching this one but it’s strictly for the wrong reasons. It’s a turkey, and borderline so-bad-it’s-good. There are a couple of moments towards the end of the second episode where the script actually seems to be falling apart before our very eyes, as if the filmmakers just couldn’t be arsed to even pretend anymore. But I guess that’s a risk you take when you hand the writing job over to a guy whose main contribution to the dramatic arts is 36 episodes of WWF Smackdown (true story!)…

Apart from the awful script, and several cases of crap acting, Meteor also disappoints hugely in the disaster department. We get many shots of meteorites streaking through the atmosphere (some of them used again and again), but precious few strikes. As the flaming rocks rain down over major cities, the director decides to cut away from the actual impacts or have them happen off-screen. Kind of an odd choice for a disaster movie. We’re told there are thousands of casualties, and Episode 2 opens with a montage of devastated cities around the globe, but we never actually get to see  anything much in the way of destruction. Don’t let the pretty art on the dvd box cover fool you – this one does emphatically not deliver what it promises.

Rating: 1/5

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