The F*cking Black Sheep: Virus (1999)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Virus (1999)
Directed by John Bruno

“Pissed off robots bent on eliminating the virus of man from the planet means a lot of bloodshed.”

When I think of Jamie Lee Curtis today, I think about her diet. I wonder if she’s been eating properly. If she hasn’t then that might explain why she’s always all bound up. It’s hard not to worry with all those yogurt ads where she pledges to keep us regular. That’s pretty sad really, because like an aging boxer who won’t retire, now matter how great they once were, it’s difficult to forget the way someone was at the end. Now I’d never say someone can’t or shouldn’t get work, but maybe find something a little more dignified. Like a credit card commercial.

We should never forget that Curtis was great for over 20 years. A bona fide star. Halloween, True Lies, The Fog, Fish Called Wanda, Freaky Friday, Blue Steele, and … Christmas with the Kranks. Ok, so maybe she didn’t have hit after hit, but she’s one of the few actors truly with screen presence, that odd mixture of tough and sexy that Sigourney Weaver mastered. Curtis might have hid that sexy side until True Lies, but regardless, she’s someone of note. If she stars, it’s at least worth a look whether it’s a yogurt ad or it's less than A level quality material. No one can fault the woman for working because sometimes if we’re lucky, a bomb like Virus comes along

For a lot of you under age 20, there’s a good chance you missed Virus. Released in 1999, Virus came during the summer rush of end of the world films nearing the end of the century. Starring Curtis, Donald Sutherland, and sadly faded William Baldwin (can’t Alec bring his brothers into the Capital One world? Don’t they need some Vikings or something?), Virus is the classic horror/sci-fi hopeful big hit. It’s got big stars, a remote location deep at sea, and a high concept that has the Terminator meets the Borg meets Under Siege with a generic Ripley saving mankind in place of Reese/Picard/Ryback. Each of the above formulas worked individually, so why not mesh them together?

It’s a shame, however, that the producers (led by Gale Anne Hurd who co-wrote and produced Terminator among other huge sci-fi films) couldn’t get enough money to avoid it all looking so cheap. Sure, the sets look good and they had to pay the cast, but like any killer robot movie, it’s all about the quality of the villain. And the robots here don’t look so killer. It’s perhaps the worst Terminator-inspired, Borg wannabe in any movie ever released in theaters. James Cameron should have sued. Now this sounds like I’m trashing it, which I am, but this low-level quality adds to the enjoyment, especially when top-level stars believe in the project. Yeah, it was a payday, but they don’t look like they know they’re eating a toasted shit sandwich. They think it’s a tuna on rye.

Virus is an easy movie to knock around because its, well, not that original. With that said, more people should dig it for what’s bad AND good. The faults are easy. But believe me, there is good. For starters, the action erupts in violent bursts which keep the flick moving. Virus doesn’t set itself up to have action characters as we’re given sailors on a tugboat, not exactly ex-military badasses, which make this a “working man’s” film. These characters make money based on deliveries, so when they lose their payload, it makes sense that the crew becomes as greedy as John Travolta getting a massage (allegedly) when they find a ghost ship, lost at sea. It creates good motivation and an actual connection with the characters. Then there’s the gore. The movie's got plenty of blood as nearly everyone gets dead at one point or another. Pissed off robots bent on eliminating the virus of man from the planet means a lot of bloodshed.

That returns us to the cast. Everyone involved must have collectively sighed when they saw the robots on set. They had to have known. But either they couldn’t come up with a better idea ala Predator, or they didn’t have the time or money. Regardless, it’s amazing how game the cast is. They act their asses off. Not in an Oscar kinda way, but they’re believable in their roles. Curtis brought all the intensity and the toughness from True Lies (with ZERO sex appeal though). Sutherland can chew up scenes like few others. As the captain, he’s your standard asshole, but its amazing how effective he can be. Lastly, there’s Baldwin. Despite being damn good in Backdraft, dude never found his footing in Hollywood. Or maybe he just sucks. Maybe Virus would have been a smash with Daniel, Steven, or Alec in his role of "Steve Baker" instead (even the name is bad). Well, maybe just Alec.




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