Director : John Bruno
Year Of Release : 1999
Principal Cast : Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland, William Baldwin, Joanna Pacula, Marshall Bell, Sherman Augustus, Cliff Curtis, Julia Oscar Mehoso.
Approx Running Time : 99 Minutes
Synopsis: When the crew of an American tugboat boards an abandoned Russian research vessel, the alien life form aboard regards them as a virus which must be destroyed.
Millennial fears pervaded cinema during much of the late 90’s. Everything from The Matrix to Schwarzenegger’s End of Days dealt with human apocalypse, each with varying degrees of success. Virus, directed by visual effects maestro John Bruno (Oscar winner for his work on The Abyss) is one of the worst of the pre-millennium horror films, a low-rent sci-fi opus lacking subtlety or flair in spite of having a Lesser Baldwin in its cast. One part Deep Rising, another part Event Horizon, and entirely feeling like an Alan Smithee film throughout, Virus is the kind of film that has to be seen to be believed for being just truly, truly awful.
The crew of a salvage boat damaged in a typhoon stumble upon a derelict Russian research vessel, which they decide to salvage. However, after powering the ship up, they soon discover a malevolent alien entity, living inside the ships onboard electronics, has decided they need to be exterminated. The crew’s captain, Everton (Donald Sutherland), sees the Russian ship as incredibly valuable, whilst navigator Kit Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), a headstrong former naval officer, disputes the legitimacy of the find, although when things start to go wrong aboard, personal opinions get quickly pushed aside.
I’ll put up my hand: I was one of those who went along to endure Virus in its theatrical release. Sold on the promise of tech-based thrills and a then-hot Jamie Lee Curtis (I mean, c’mon, she was in True Lies for Pete’s sake!) Virus’ lure of cheap scares and vacant spectacle was pretty compelling for me at the time. Oh, how I’ve matured. Virus is an utter trainwreck of asinine dialogue, cliched scares and genre tropes played out for our desperate entertainment. Anyone who’s ever watched… you know, a film before will spot half the plot-twists coming before they arrive, and what little character development is on offer to provide the audience with a hook is limited by a malaise of dullard direction and mediocre tension. Throw in a Peter Hyams-level lighting technique and a flat, generic cinematographic design and Virus just feels like a tizzed-up D-grade movie.
Virus is basically a hodgepodge pastiche of any horror or thriller film over the last half century. With a premise stolen entirely from Alien, characters sporting the intellectual rigour of soap, and cringe-worthy dialogue including a character intoning the phrase “he’s gone postal” like he’s just stepped off a bus, Virus is not a new kind of film. The idea that a salvage crew board an abandoned Russian missile ship and discover an alien entity intent on wiping humanity out, using the “isolated apocalypse” premise of having the alien want to get to Earth (a la Ripley’s discussions in Alien, Aliens and most astutely in Alien Resurrection), runs its course quickly enough, with a seabound setting replacing the spacebound one, but containing almost exactly the same story beats. Hell, Donald Sutherland replaces the Alien franchise’s ubiquitous Paul Reiser as a ship’s Captain hoping to make a profit from the aliens’ existence. Jamie Lee Curtis ain’t Ellen Ripley, but that’s not through lack of trying – Curtis is a far better actress than Virus (or anyone) deserves but she’s hamstrung by woeful directing and writing.
Characters don’t develop, they simply exist, and spend most of the film yelling at each other for no particular reason other than to provide mild tension (in actuality, there’s zero tension at all, so never mind), and the visual effects – a cornucopia of live-action robotic creations that provide gory, effectively menacing chills similar to Terminator or RoboCop’s herky-jerky insidiousness – feel outdated in today’s post-millennial world. The problem with a tech-based film is that inevitably real-world tech will pass it by, and Virus is no exception. As such, the film plays like some outdated historical document than a futuristic rollercoaster.
Virus simply lacks urgency. It’s scares are ill-developed, its robotic aesthetic feels like some Matrix ripoff, and the underlying premise about an electrical alien presence seeking to wipe out humanity causes one to have to stifle laughter, regardless of the admittedly impressive period-era robot effects. There’s a kinetic vacuum at work here, a cheap knock-off movie trying to elevate itself with big money and production value but never quite hitting escape velocity. Cursed by an absence of logic, adrift in a sea of better films and far superior effects, and weighed down by some of the worst screen writing you’ll ever see, Virus is one of the most abominable efforts of the Y2K era, if not ever.
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