Virus (1999)

Virus (1999)

Life on Earth is in for a shock

When the crew of an American tugboat find an abandoned Russian research vessel drifting in the eye of a storm, they start to dream of the money they’ll be paid if they can claim it as salvage. However, when they board they soon realise that they will share the same fate that befell the Russian crew – a hostile alien life form that has taken over the ship views humans as a virus and is prepared to wipe each and every one of them out.

 

Originally scheduled for a big budget summer release in 1998 with the tune of $75m behind it, Virus suffered at the box office and was hammered by critics when it was eventually put out early in 1999 due to restructuring at Universal Studios. Bizarrely enough, it even got its own action figure line, which is a sign of just how much Universal were banking on this! Maybe they should have released it when they had the chance. Being the unfortunate later arrival of a ‘twin film’ pairing with Deep Rising, Virus was clearly a case of ‘been there, done that’ only a few months earlier – and for all of its faults, Deep Rising is by far the better, more entertaining film.

Virus had so much potential as a sci-fi horror but it’s a boring disappointment from almost the first scene until the last. Despite all of the alien hardware on display and a fairly decent sized cast to kill off, it’s got no energy whatsoever and drags its way from set piece to set piece. It takes far too long to get going anywhere remotely interesting and by the time the salvage crew have boarded the vessel and encountered the aliens for the first time, you will have already subconsciously switched off. Too long is spent touring the abandoned Russian ship with no real tension or excitement – we know something has happened to the crew but the narrative never once tries to make that mystery seem engaging.

Once the crew do eventually come across the aliens, and the weird assortment of robots and cyborgs that it likes to assemble in its automation shop, Virus does pick up slightly but even then, the script doesn’t seem to know what to do with it’s alien villains. Clichés rule the roost for the most part, with a few action set pieces that barely register a pulse, and characters are killed off in a relatively predictable order. If you’re going to invest so much money in a film, then at least make an effort to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. It’s almost as if the producers blew their budget on the special effects. The idea of mixing in human body parts with machine parts was quite unsettling, and was the perfect set-up for some chilling moments. Instead, we get a few token “Oh look it’s our former shipmate” sequences which matter little since we hardly got to know the person in the first place.

Director Bruno was a visual effects man on Terminator 2: Judgment Day and you can spot some of the similarities with the creatures on show here. The cyborgs that the alien creates looks like some sort of mutant offspring of the Borg from Star Trek. They look excellent, with the characters who are killed off and turned into the cyborgs looking particularly menacing in layers of make-up and robotics. It’s a pity that these cyborgs don’t really do much except skulk around in the shadows and leave the bulk of damage to the larger robot. Less convincing, this larger robot (or the actual alien in robot form) is brought to life mainly through some ropey-looking effects and the poor quality takes you out of the moment whenever it’s on-screen – some sort of drunken older brother of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit springs to mind. The mix of practical effects with some early CGI has dated Virus more than it should for a film made in 1999, but the overall appearance of the practical effects does still look effective.

There’s a reasonable ensemble cast here too, with Jamie Lee Curtis providing the Ripley-esque heroine material, William Baldwin as the bland hero and Donald Sutherland as the salty sea dog captain, but they’re not required to do much more than chew their way through some badly-written lines and provide the necessary exposition to get from plot point A to plot point B. Curtis and Baldwin have absolutely zero chemistry and their forced romance is just as inexcusable as Sutherland’s ropey faux-Irish accent, as he hams it up in one of his worst ever performances. Its hard to really care about anyone else as they’re so thinly written and get tiny amounts of screen time.

 

Virus wants its audience to love it and there’s plenty of potential just waiting to be mined but, unfortunately, it’s lack of energy and general lethargy mean that it never really gets going. You have to wonder whether it being put back in the release schedule did have something to do with the end product not being very good after all.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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