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'Virus': A Germ Of an Idea Runs Amok

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 16, 1999

  Movie Critic

Movie Scene
Jamie Lee Curtis stars in "Virus." (Universal)

John Bruno
Jamie Lee Curtis;
Donald Sutherland;
Sherman Augustus;
William Baldwin;
Cliff Curtis;
Joanna Pacula
Running Time:
1 hour, 30 minutes
For bloody violence, too much water, and profanity
As an exercise in imagination, let's pretend that we were there when a producer pitched "Virus" to Universal's management. It could only happen like this:

See, Edgar, here's the primary story arc. It's set aboard a ship that's taken over by an alien. He builds a terminator, a bio-mechanical creature that kills humans because that's what they do, that's all they do. He's headed toward civilization. But a ragtag crew of losers comes aboard. They realize this could be the end of life on Earth. They've got to stop it, dammit.

Now we get a strong woman. She has a past. You can tell because she has a scar on her face. We'll surround her with idiot men. We'll call her Ripley. No? Too much? Plus, Sigourney is unavailable. How about Jamie Lee Curtis. Same bone structure, same solemnity, same capacity to demonstrate macho rage. Hey! Are we cooking or what?

Next, we need one young loser never-made-it star. I've already got out feelers to William Baldwin. We'll also need an old has-been who was briefly a star, made a fortune selling Volvos via voice-over, and fancies himself a character actor with a gift for accents. And, Edgar, I have an inside source in Donald Sutherland's camp. I know he's available and he has a horrible Scottish accent.

Now, since, ha-ha, cost is a factor, we won't mess around with elaborate outer-space effects. So instead of a spaceship, let's make it a Russian communications vessel. We can rent one from the commies for peanuts! They've got plenty to spare, Edgar. But here's how we get the Americans aboard; it's a fab plot twist. See, they're on a damned voyage to Hell aboard a Conradian derelict steamer when they discover the Russian craft mysteriously abandoned far off the shipping lines. Edgar, you like? Lots of fog effects. Maybe even some weather. This is good, no?

Edgar, guess who they find aboard the Russian ship? One survivor remains and it's a beautiful woman. We'll get a faded European actress who still looks good enough to take out to lunch in this town. That's right Edgar - Joanna Pacula.

Next, Edgar, people start dying one by one. As the pressure increases, the survivors separate and wander through dark corridors looking spooked. Then it jumps out and slaughters them. But at first we never get a good look at it.

Guess what else is aboard this ship, Edgar? Why, lots of machine guns. Maybe even some RPGs! Edgar, can you see it: KA-BOOM!! RAT-TAT-TATTATAT. Teenage boys, Edgar! Teenage boys who can't get dates on Saturday nights, so they go to the mall in millions and watch people get chewed up, Edgar -- how's that for your key demographics! Edgar, eventually it takes the shape of a 20-foot-tall bio-mechanical gizmo made of flesh and gears that goes bzzt-click-click-bizzzit! when it moves. And it scuttles along like some rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born! The kids love it when that happens. So anyway, Edgar, finally only Jamie Lee and whichever Baldwin it was? Not Alec. Roger? Adam? Danny-boy. No, Billy, that's it, anyhow Jamie Lee and Billy are left and they blow it up. So the climax of this extremely expensive special effects science fiction movie is a ship blowing up, just like at the end of "Action in the North Atlantic" back in 1943!

Edgar, how great is it? I mean really: How great is it? Why, I can proudly say that everything in it is a cliche including the end. You think that's easy?

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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