The disaster genre was fading by the time this star-studded flick arrived in late 1979, but it’s not as if Meteor ever stood a chance of success. Possibly the lowest-energy disaster movie ever made, this silly picture comprises bored-looking actors lounging around a high-tech command center while they wait for something bad to happen. Considering that the storyline envisions a giant asteroid thundering toward Earth, it’s amazing how casual everyone behaves. Even during the second half of the movie, after thousands of people have died, characters idly pass their time by chatting over chess games and flirting over salads.
Sean Connery stars as Paul Bradley, a protagonist pulled straight off the disaster-movie assembly line: He’s a reluctant savior whose expertise concerns an outer-space missile installation the U.S. government hopes to use against the approaching meteor. Paul is assumed into service by government official Harry Sherwood (Karl Malden), and they quarrel about strategy with the inevitable hard-ass military man, General Adlon (Martin Landau). Adlon is among the most idiotic characters in the history of the disaster genre, because he spends most of the movie bitching about the danger of leaving America undefended even though the alternative is planetary obliteration.
The story also features Cold War-era hogwash about persuading the Russian government to use the missiles on their outer-space installation, so Bradley’s Soviet counterpart, Dr. Dubov (Brian Keith), travels to the U.S. with his assistant/translator, Tatiana (Natalie Wood). Keith’s gruff vibe enlivens the movie, but Meteor is so drab the filmmakers forget to advance the predictable Connery-Wood romance beyond a few friendly conversations.
Even with Poseidon Adventure director Ronald Neame helming, Meteor drags along through one uneventful scene after another before the corpse-strewn climax, in which a small meteor hits the command center, forcing the heroes to make a daring escape attempt through an underwater subway tunnel. Enervated in the extreme, Meteor wastes a great cast (which also includes Richard Dysart, Henry Fonda, and Trevor Howard), and since the movie came out two years after Star Wars, its inert special effects feel positively archaic.