Virus

1/2*

You always have to be careful with the initial releases of any calendar year. January is a traditional dumping ground in which the studios release films that they don't believe are good enough to even merit a shot at getting awards, nor entertaining enough to benefit from the high-traffic holiday box office. Such a film this year is Virus, a high tech zombie movie that resembles, in more ways than one, last year's January-release: Deep Rising. Both are sci-fi thrillers set aboard a boat. And both deserve to be sunk as quickly as possible.

In Virus, Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Kelly Foster, the navigator of the Sea Star, a tugboat under the command of Captain Everton (Donald Sutherland), who (at some point before the movie starts) has gone completely mad. It's up to Foster and the ship's engineer Steve Baker (William Baldwin) to keep the tug in one piece. Everton has led the ship into the middle of a typhoon, where they encounter something mysterious: an abandoned Russian scientific vessel.

Upon exploring the derelict ship, the crew of the Sea Star discover plenty of unusual phenomena. The entire Russian crew is missing (except for plenty of bloodstains here and there), there is evidence of gunfire throughout the ship, and many systems have been smashed or otherwise destroyed.

But that is only the beginning, as the crew of the Sea Star are about to find out. An energy-based life form from outer space has inhabited the ship's computers. It controls all the ship's systems, and is building cyborg robots to further its control. The alien considers human life to be a noxious virus that must be eliminated (though in a way that will provide plenty of spare parts for the next cyborg...).

It is in this way that, you can be certain, everyone who dies will be back as a bad guy later in the film. The film never explains why the alien life form even bothers creating these cyborgs. It is not as if they are more powerful than the purely robotic creations. Nor do they seem more efficient or more intelligent. Perhaps they were created out of boredom (there's certainly enough of that in this movie).

Virus falls into the same trap as many sci-fi horror films. It's full of seemingly smart characters who do extremely stupid things. (Hmmm... an abandoned ship in the middle of a typhoon, filled with blood and signs of violence? Let's split up and wander aimlessly through the dark corridors...)

The actors in Virus aren't given much to work with, and they don't give a lot in return. Donald Sutherland's campy performance (with a mumble-mouthed on-again, off-again accent) may qualify as the worst in the film...but at least he was trying something different. Jamie Lee Curtis and William Baldwin simply stroll through the film with nary an ounce of effort.

The robot designs in Virus are halfway interesting, and the high point of the film. But, they're hardly worth wading through the rest of the film just to see. Very few things would be...

[R - sci-fi violence/gore, and for language] (Universal)


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