Rating -

Thriller / Sci-Fi (US); 1999; Rated R; 100 Min.

Jamie Lee Curtis: Kit Foster
William Baldwin: Steve Baker
Donald Sutherland: Captain Everton
Joanna Pacula: Nadia
Cliff Curtis: Hiko

Produced by Mark Gordon, Gale Anne Hurd, Dennis E. Jones, Gary Levinsohn, Todd Moyer, Chuck Pfarrer, Mike Richardson and Bud Smith; Directed by John Bruno; Screenwritten by Chuck Pfarrer and Dennis Feldman

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Virus" is a disgusting, ugly, and downright depressing excuse for a thriller, and that's what makes it good. This is a difficult job for me as a film critic, because what we have here is a movie that essentially deserves zero stars for being so bad, and I'm giving it a whopping two-and-a-half. How do you explain the reasons to your readers effectively? It's a difficult job, but I'll try my best.

First, the problem areas. "Virus" contains a lot of those. From the midnight-like tones to the fast, rythmless editing, to the horrible acting and the repulsive special effects, the whole movie is a big mess to stare at for two hours. Every scene is done this way with such a lack of effort and imagination that it's kind of funny. To think that anyone could find this as a plausible idea for moviemaking is impossible. Since it was released to the human public, though, that tells us something about these filmmakers that we shouldn't know.

Last year, at the Cannes Film Festival, a lot of viewers mocked the hideous images of a lizard in the sour adaptation of "Godzilla." This is the same case, basically. Things come together so badly that the public provokes this really scathing audience participation. That in itself is an entertainment. Emerging from all the audience reaction, I was quick to like "Virus" for provoking that type of amusing participation with its viewers. If such a bad reaction had come form something like, say, "Armageddon," I might have given it more than just a half star.

If you've seen "Deep Rising," you know the story. It centers around a Russian communications vessel caught in the eye of a viscous typhoon. In the opening credits, a virus from outer-space inhabits the ship's computer system. Later, as the movie progresses, we meet a group of Americans coming across the ship motionless in the Pacific. The solution is to go aboard and try to take it ashore. Big mistake.

The American ship crew features, among others, actors like William Baldwin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland. You could put all of them into a movie, and you'd get a pulse-pounding, nonstop thriller. Why don't we get that here? Probably because the film's focus is the special effects, and they completely overshadow any human character. Heck, half the time, the film is so dark that you can't tell who's who (a la "Armageddon").

They walk around on the ship for a few minutes with nothing by insipid dialogue to keep them company. They shout through the corridors. They walk waist-deep in water. They discover that, if you turn the ship's computer system on, the deadly alien virus creates some sort of gooey monster, either using parts of the actual ship or limbs from leftover crew casualties, whichever is closer. Throughout the rest of the movie, a series of dark and scare-less chase scenes carry the whole concept to absolute deadness. The whole last half of the film is one dark chase scene with limbs being thrashed, monsters grunting, people screaming, and lights flickering. You can't tell what's going on at all.

Here at "Virus," this is the point that provokes the audience participation. During the opening showing of the film, people actually said, "Is this supposed to be scary?" "Someone put out a contract on John Bruno's head," and "This film reminds me of my mother in law. Both are loud and annoying." There was much more said in the two hours of the film's existence on screen, but some of it was so gross or vulgar that it can't even be repeated here.

I don't usually let the audience influence my final decision about movies, but in a case like this, I had to. It's necessary to Creat audience hatred sometimes when you hate movies so badly. With "Virus," I am reminded of an old theater saying that my middle school drama teacher once used. She claimed that "if your audience hates you, they'll make that clear during your performance." Here is a movie that obviously did a bad job of amusing the audience. I should know. They told me.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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