Ever have one of those Saturdays when you can’t think of what to do?
Yes, you know you’re bored, but it’s infuriating when you can’t think of a way to fix the problem. It’s as if no ideas are allowed to enter your head. That’s exactly what happened to me one Saturday in January 1999. I had lunch with my buddy John, who I hadn’t seen for a while. After a lot of driving around, he suggested we see a movie.
Since this was back in the dark ages when you couldn’t look up movie times on your phone, I stopped at a Tedeschi’s convenience store and bought a newspaper to see what was playing. Our options were “Varsity Blues,” “Patch Adams,” “Virus,” and “A Civil Action.” Two of those I had seen, and neither one of us had an interest in “A Civil Action,” and so we decided to see “Virus.”
If you’re lucky enough not to remember this movie, here’s a refresher course: “Virus” was directed by John Bruno and it was based on the comic book of the same name by Chuck Pfarrer. The film starred Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland, and it tells the story of a ship beset by a malevolent extraterrestrial entity that seeks to turn humanity into cyborg slaves.
“Virus” opens with crazy tugboat captain Donald Sutherland and his crew towing a barge in the middle of a typhoon. This seems more like a job for the Coast Guard, but whatever. The barge is starting to sink, and the crew led by Jamie Lee Curtis and William Baldwin, want to cut it loose before it takes them down too. But the barge means a ton of money for the old skipper, and he’d rather go with it than risk losing it. This whole sequence is probably the only decent moment of the movie.
During the same storm, the tugboat comes upon a drifting Russian satellite communications ship. The same one from the movie’s opening credits, where a space cloud enveloped the Mir space station, and sent a bolt of energy down to the ship’s satellite dish.
This alien energy included a virus that takes over the onboard computers and represents a vast, if never clearly defined, threat to life on earth. And probably the Russians onboard, but I can’t remember for sure because by this point I was contemplating getting a pizza from the concession stand.
Anyways, greedy Captain Sutherland wants to claim the ship for salvage. So he has his tugboat crew board it, and soon are fighting the virus. This was scene was okay I guess, but when one of the characters shouted “The ship’s steering itself!” I knew we were in for a long movie. From there the virus creates robots, and sometimes uses them to snatch crew members one by one and turn them into strange creatures. It’s then left up to Curtis, Baldwin and their red shirt crewmates to outsmart the virus,
and save mankind.
This movie is awful, easily one of the worst I’ve ever seen. But to be fair, none of the problems in “Virus” are the fault of the cast. Donald Sutherland and Jamie Lee Curtis are good actors, but both deserved better material to work with.
Neither actor was able to add much to their characters. Meanwhile, William Baldwin wasn’t a great leading man, but he tried his best to keep up with his castmates. I think most of the film’s problems are due to a poor script, weak special effects, and a relatively unexperienced director.
It also didn’t help the cast that much of the film is almost unwatchable. For example, the last act of the movie is shot in near darkness. During the last hour, various human and other creatures go around the ship under water and lit only by flashlight beams. This is where “Virus” switched from being a sci-fi movie to a cheap horror flick filled with cheap scares, the occasional bloody limb, and lots of unnecessary screaming.
When John and I left the theater that evening, he looked at me and asked, “What the hell did we just see?” It was a fair question, and one that I didn’t have an answer for. Quite frankly, we should have walked out of “Virus,” and snuck in to “Varsity Blues.” Not that Blues was a great movie either, but at least it had that whipped cream scene.