Friday, October 19, 2012

Good Effects, Bad People: "Virus" (1999)

When I first saw the previews for this, I assumed it took place in space onboard a ship taken over by an alien. Even the video box looks space bound. Wrong.

A boat crew loses their cargo in a typhoon (which do not necessarily spring up out of nowhere anymore, having lived through dozens of them in the Far East) and comes across a seemingly abandoned Russian space communications ship while waiting in the storm's eye. The Russian ship could be salvaged, and the crew decides to take it and redeem the millions of dollars they think they will get. Suddenly, a Russian scientist appears and tells them what happened. Apparently, and this was shown in the beginning of the movie, an alien lifeforce took over the Mir space station, then the ship in the water. It is electronic in nature, and uses humans for "spare parts" as it builds machine/human hybrids to do its bidding. A lot of things blow up after that, all headed toward the predictable finale.

Jamie Lee Curtis is the navigator, but is not given a lot to do except cough and call out other characters' names in dark corridors. One of the Baldwin brothers comes along for the ride. It's not Alec, and it's not that one "duuuude" from "Bio Dome," it is the middle one, I think. Donald Sutherland is the stereotypical mentally unbalanced captain of the American ship. He has some kind of strange accent that sounds Scottish one minute, and Canadian the next. The rest of the doomed crew consists of expendable minority characters and crusty cowards. Why is it only the white women survive movies like this? Joanna Pacula plays the surviving Russian scientist. She has done better.

The entire film is full of characters wandering down dark hallways, and "checking on" each other. People get separated, and the real gore comes about thanks to the machines.

The special effects are pretty incredible. From the opening space shots, to the typhoon effects, to the very gory hybrids, I thought they were the best thing about the film.

The cast here tries hard. The film looks expensive, and Bruno's direction is excellent. The musical score is a little clangy, and the cinematography (especially a closing sunrise shot) is lush.

There is just nothing underneath the surface of "Virus." Characters go tromping after noises they hear in the dark. The crew stumbles across a stash of guns that seems prerequisite in all sci-fi horror films. Jamie Lee Curtis is lusted after by the rest of the crew as she remains serious so she can be taken seriously. They even throw in a fake ending to get your blood rushing again after 100 minutes of yelling, gore, and explosions.

What we have here is a spaceship movie that takes place in the ocean going ship concerning a computer virus. What we also have here is a lot of cliche dressed up with pretty pictures, an expensive look, and great effects. (* *) out of five stars.