This article appeared in Issue 15 (April/June 1999) of Frontier, Australia's premiere sci-fi media magazine.
It's a lifeform... unlike anything we've seen before.
"Virus" has all the makings of mediocre movie, besides being yet another creature-feature on board a deserted ship (such as "Deep Rising"). Like last year's middling "Hard Rain", "Virus" was originally scheduled for release during the summer, but was unceremoniously dumped into a January timeslot in hopes of avoiding the summer movie glut (or in other wands, wither in the midst of superior product). Furthermore, hit-starved Universal Pictures (which has suffered from a string of unsuccessful films, including "Meet Joe Black", "Babe: Pig in the City", and "One True Thing") decided not to offer any press screenings, which is the usual practice for avoiding negative word-of-mouth publicity on an opening weekend. And guess what? It is a mediocre movie.
While on a routine mission on board the Russian MIR space station, the crew is killed by a mysterious ribbon of energy that quickly envelopes the space station. Having seized control of the MIR, the energy ribbon then follows the path of MIR's data transmission, which is being monitored by Chief Science Officer Nadia (Joanna Pacula) on board the Russian science vessel Akademic Vladislav Volkov. And like the MIR space station, before anyone can react, the energy ribbon takes over the ship's computers and electronics...
How does it look?
What do you mean by 'bad'?
A few days later, the tugboat Sea Star is hauling its cargo through a savage typhoon. Captain Everton (Donald Sutherland), a salty and volatile fellow, pushes on through the maelstrom without any regard to the safety of his crew, intent on making his delivery. However, after the cargo is lost, the level-headed navigator, Kelly Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis) steers the ship towards the calm seas in the eye of the typhoon, where engineer Steve Baker (William Baldwin) can effect repairs. However, they quickly learn that there is another ship in the eye of the storm, and upon investigation, they find the Vladislav Volkov, out of power and seemingly deserted. As the crew of the Sea Star moves through the inner recesses of the giant research vessel, they find signs of a struggle-- bullet holes, destroyed communications equipment, and blood stains.
Everton, who feels as though he has struck paydirt, formulates a plan to take control of the ship and tow it into port for an estimated $30 million salvage fee. At first, Everton's crew seems buoyed by the good news. However, when the ship's main power is turned back on, the mysterious electrical entity from space is reawakened and puts into a motion a plan to rid the vessel of the virus called Man...
Spare parts... it wants us for spare parts!
Most likely you've seen this kind of movie before (actually, if you saw last year's "Deep Rising", it's more of the same). There's lots of screaming, automatic gunfire, and running around as it uninventively filches from a number of other sci-fi/horror films: "Alien", "Terminator", "Hardware", "Runaway", etc. There's also a fair amount of gore, as the alien entity dissects its human victims for use as spare parts in its cybernetic creations (Borg, anyone?). With such a predictable and overused plot, it is very hard to become involved with this plodding effort. Furthermore, the ensemble of poorly-written one-note characters doesn't help matters much either.
The most glaring example of a badly-written character would have to be Curtis' character, whose character arc actually seems to go in reverse. For those of you that have seen "Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later", you'll recall that Curtis' character in that film, Laurie Strode, made the transition from being a fearful woman who was out of control of her own life, to becoming an empowered heroine who took charge of the situation and confronted her demons. Well, the reverse happens in "Virus". Curtis' character starts off as being a level-headed second-in-command. However, as the story progresses, she becomes increasingly disempowered until she is a sobbing wreck unable to save even herself. This ends up putting the final nail into the movie's coffin, as it results in a very unsatisfying experience. Watching a character on the screen overcoming insurmountable obstacles is a lot of fun... watching a character fall down in the face of adversity and whine about it is not.
"Virus" doesn't do anything for anybody's career. It's a pure exploitation flick that lacks the charm, humor, and thrills that would elevate it above your average B-movie. Don't catch this virus... stay at home.