Virus (1999)

There’s no such thing as easy money, Squeaky
John Bruno
Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, Joanna Pacula
The Setup: 
Space alien starts making ineffective little killing machines.

One night, desperate for something cheesy and lame, I ducked into the bargain DVD store, where I came upon a disc that contains BOTH this film and Schwarzenegger’s late-career misfire End of Days. Well, who could resist that? And so once again, rather than sit through the artsy and rewarding Sans Soleil, I decided to watch something that would be a complete waste of time.

We open on a “Space Event Ship” full of Russian scientists in some sea or other. They are in contact with the MIR space station [meagerly topical at the time of the film], where guys are looking out the window and seeing this glowing energy ball coming at them. It passes through the station, electrifying everyone, then shoots a beam of energy down to the ship. The ship’s computers are being accessed [seriously, it’s V’Ger] and all sorts of bad things are happening. Then—

Cut to some small tugboat-thing in the same area, seven days later. There’s a big typhoon [there must always be a big typhoon] and the ship is pulling this huge barge overloaded with cargo. We have Donald Sutherland as the requisite crazy captain, Everton, and Jamie Lee Curtis as Foster, a navigator [who can also perform surgery?] and William Baldwin as Steve, good guy mechanic. Also on hand are the standard multi-racial crew, including a black guy, a Latino, an eccentric older white guy, and even a Maori! This is part of the common cliché that these working grunts, who you might expect to be racist, actually are forced into contact with other cultures by the nature of their work and thus potential racial differences melt away. Until, of course, they are necessary to the plot, whereupon someone will usually say “What do you mean, YOU PEOPLE?” or something. Well Everton starts at 9.8 on the crazymeter and goes right up to 12 in the opening minutes, as he holds a gun on Steve and refuses to cut the cargo loose. They have ample cause to knock him out and tie him up at this point, but of course we need a mad captain for the plot. They end up losing the barge, and Everton is about to blow his own brains out when they discover another ship in the area—the Space Event Ship. They truck on over there to check it out, which also happens to be in the eye of the typhoon, which is perfectly calm. Now, I don’t know, but if all the water AROUND the eye is going crazy, wouldn’t there be at least SOME waves going through the eye? At least some mild chop? But no, it’s perfectly clear and sunny in the eye, and we have this nice visual below, which I must say impressed me at the time and was the one thing I remembered about this movie from seeing it the first time—in the theater. Yeah, I used to see a lot of shit.

I surmise that one would be foolish to regard this movie as an accurate expression of scientific weather patterns, as we have WILDLY mismatched weather from shot to shot as the crew approach the ship. You might have a shot of Jamie Lee peering out through the overwhelming fog, followed by a shot of Baldwin looking out under bright sunshine with a cloudless blue sky behind him. They land on the ship, discover that no one is home, and start talking about salvage rights, which would net them each three million dollars. Everyone is on board with this except the morally-upright, naturally suspicious final girl Foster, who retorts one of the more notable lines in film history: “There’s no such thing as easy money, Squeaky.” Soon after, Steve and the Latin mechanic are discussing privately how Foster is “hot.” Now, I love and admire Jamie Lee Curtis, but is she “Hot?” Especially in this tomboyish role with her butch haircut? Maybe. Anyway, they get down to the basement and turn the mainframe back on, unwittingly unleashing the VIRUS.

A bestial screeching is heard, which only Foster thinks might be a bit strange, and the virus once more starts accessing the ship’s computers. Uh, isn’t it done downloading by NOW? How much information can this one ship’s computer contain, anyway? And wouldn’t it be more efficient to stay on the MIR space station and wait until it’s over land, in just a few short minutes? But alas, it is not productive to ask such questions. The VIRUS quickly sizes up the situation, and drops the big ship’s anchor right through the little ship, sinking it. The Maori is going down with the ship, caught on something, when Steve heroically swims over and just GETS HIM, without unhooking him from anything, making one wonder what the problem was in the first place. Maybe he’s just one of those people with a need to be saved by others. Anyway, now they’re trapped on the big ship. But… with WHAT?

We’ve already been apprised that creepy [or not] robot spiders are crawling the ship. Clumsily. They seem to be only a slight technological advance from the ones seen in Runaway, of years earlier, and, well, do not speak too persuasively about the alien’s supposed technological advances. The Latino guy is downstairs when he hears a funny noise and—well, we all know the cliché of the early horror victim who ill-advisedly goes into the dark room to investigate a funny noise. How about the guy who gets down on his hands and knees and inserts his entire torso into the floor-level dark hole? That’s got to take the cake. Things predictably end poorly.

Then is when we discover that Foster can perform impromptu surgery as well as navigate, and soon two other minor sidekicks are discovering some heavy missiles on board. We need heavy missiles on board so they’ll have something to blow the ship up with at the end. You’ll notice that almost all movies about a remote ocean ship or outpost [Deep Rising, Deep Star Six, Sphere] all feature remote ocean outposts with major explosives. Then they get attacked by a big robot snake, which they seem to take fairly in stride, and soon discover a huge robot machine shop busily assembling mini-robots. They turn off the power when they leave the room… but soon the power comes back on, all by itself!

Now by now you must be wondering… isn’t there a beautiful Russian scientist around here somewhere? Indeed there is, and she comes out spraying machine-gun fire at our intrepid heroes. Eventually she snaps out of it, which point she really, REALLY wants a power bar. She also gives the crazy captain someone to psychotically blame for everything, despite the overwhelming evidence that something not of this world is happening—such as a half decomposing man/half machine that comes after them with multiple guns. Yeah, that lady right there probably whips those dern things up in her spare time! Her role [aside from to provide a gorgeous babe—no offense, Jamie Lee] is also to provide exposition as to what is happening. It seems, if you haven’t guessed already, that some sort of alien intelligence came down in the lightning and now is busily assembling robots that will kill all the people and fuse human parts with machines to create advanced killing machines because [no one has said this so far, but I’m sure this is where it’s going:] HUMANITY IS A VIRUS.

Now, when we really stop to evaluate this super-advanced space intelligence and its killing machines, we’d have to agree that it’s really pretty fucking inefficient. If it really wants to kill these people, and it has total control of the ship, it could just lock them in and gas them, no? A lot more direct than creating cyborgs out of corpses and having them stalk the corridors with machine guns—which they can’t seem to aim very well, either. And let’s not even get into the stupid and clumsy little robot spiders that walk around doing nothing. And that whole robot-making lab isn’t really putting out that much work, is it? I mean, sure the power was off for a few days, but they managed to kill everyone on the Russian ship before that, so why are these people, considerably stupider, able to poke around for so long? And what is the point of using human parts and wiring them into machines—aside from it being gross—if it isn’t going to give them any more advanced abilities than they average old gun-totin’ machine? I’m often really dumbfounded by how lame and inefficient these super-advanced aliens are.

I’d like to say I had the interest to go into this further but the fact is I don’t. From now on it’s just facing one thing after another, the robots get bigger and angrier, until we finally get to the big CGI one at the end. You will definitely be able to tell when the switch is made. Blah, blah, the expected people die, the expected people live, and eventually it’s over. There was some movie I saw back in the day where the ship blows up at the end—as the ship must ALWAYS blow up at the end—and you could clearly see how the model was parked maybe five feet off a beach, because you could SEE the beach. But, to my surprise, it wasn’t this movie. So which one WAS it then?

As for this one, well, I suppose it could have been worse? Somehow? It’s quite generic as a rip-off of every monster movie ever made and Alien in particular, and there’s just something that seems particularly cheap and lame about it. Maybe it’s the cast—although I will always have argued that Jamie Lee deserved better. Poor Jamie Lee. She was right to retire with her dignity. Anyway, is it even kind of fun? I suppose that depends on how much of a masochist you are… it’s somewhat fun, but there are a lot MORE fun things out there, like either Deep Rising or Deep Star Six, for example. Yeah, if you haven’t seen both of those, you have no business watching this. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a situation in which you couldn’t do better than this. Just skip it.

Should you watch it: 

Not really, although you’ve seen worse shit, I’m sure.