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Review by Justin Felix

Written by Dennis Feldman and Jonathan Hensleigh.
Based upon the comic book Virus by Chuck Pfarrer.
Directed by John Bruno.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, and Donald Sutherland.
Rated R (contains violence, profanity, and excessive gore) approx. 90 mins.

Synopsis: An energy life force from outer space smashes through the Mir space station and rockets down to a huge Soviet ship. A week later, a sinking salvage boat named the Sea Star trapped in the eye of a typhoon encounters the Soviet ship. The Sea Star's ragtag crew boards the Soviet vessel and discovers the alien life force is creating biomechanical lifeforms with spare parts from machines and people.

Comments: So, what do you get when you mix Alien, The Abyss, Leviathan, Deep Rising, Screamers, Terminator, and Star Trek: First Contact with just a touch of Halloween in a blender (if mixing movies in a blender were, indeed, possible)? Well, you'd get Virus, Universal's much delayed new sci-fi thriller. This film, to the best of my recollection, was supposed to come out in August, but someone in the studio was nervous about having two horror films starring Jamie Lee Curtis come out at nearly the same time. (Dimension's Halloween: H20 was released around that time.) So, Universal opted to bury the movie in mid-January among several high-quality Oscar contenders and romances for upcoming Valentine's Day. Smart. Those of us who want to see this movie, me for instance, have to battle knee-high snow drifts and frozen car doors just to get to the local theater. Winter season in Ohio, like most of the Northeast, has been especially cruel this year.

Nonetheless, I managed to get out to see Virus on opening night, and I'm glad I did. Though by far not an original movie, VIRUS contains enough cool special effects for its audience to overlook its many inherent flaws. One of these flaws, as you may well deduce from my opening comment, is that Virus "borrows" heavily from many other sci-films. The basic plot comes directly from Alien. This plot has been used, to varying degrees of effectiveness, in countless motion pictures. Basically, the screenwriter puts a group of people on a ship, or some other isolated area, and has them hunted by some sort of alien or monster. Usually, this creature kills all but one or two of the crew, and this (these) survivor(s) kill(s) the creature in the end. The creature in Virus is an alien-energy-life-form-thingie creating all sorts of different biomechanical monsters to terrorize the crew of the doomed Sea Star. You'll recognize these creations right away if you're a sci-fi fan. Tiny mechanical spiders from Runaway. Human-sized Borg people from Star Trek: First Contact. Etc.

To be honest, this creative "borrowing" really didn't bother me all that much. They say it's hard to be original. I don't know. Technically, though, the special effects in this film are surprisingly effective. Some may not like them because they are, at times, quite gruesome, but most will probably get a kick out of them like my brother and I did. Besides, certain parts of this movie are so absurd that they lend enough disbelief to counter any real disgust one may get from seeing dismembered body parts and the like.

The actors in Virus do a lot to offset any genuine terror the movie may engender. Donald Sutherland, a longtime character actor who has appeared in such classic sci-fi films as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and , is ridiculously over-the-top as the Sea Star's greedy captain. One set of lines he delivered halfway through the film had the entire theater laughing; it was *that* cheesy. William Baldwin plays the male lead. Is it just me, or does Billy Baldwin seem like an actor you just can't take seriously? He almost always looks goofily perplexed. One of the minor characters tried to play the best Queequeg he could (someone put tattoos over his face to make him look even more like the harpooner from MOBY DICK). Only Jamie Lee Curtis is really convincing here. Curtis is an accomplished actress capable of many genres. She can do comedy, action, and drama equally well. But, first and foremost in my mind, Curtis is a horror actress, the Scream Queen. She had her start in such early slasher films as Terror Train, Prom Night, and the quintessential slice-and-dice classic Halloween. She was also quite memorable in John Carpenter's overlooked atmospheric ghost story The Fog. It's good to see her back in her element again. In Virus, she first seems to assume a Ripley-like (the heroine of the Alien saga) character, but, surprisingly, she doesn't stay "tough" through the movie. Instead, she becomes so terrified as to be nearly paralyzed. Nobody can pull this off better than Curtis. She was perfect as the threatened babysitter in the original Halloween, and she pulls off the scared-out-of-her-wits female lead without the camp the other actors put into their roles.

Overall, Virus is an entertaining sci-fi thriller which makes for a pretty good Saturday afternoon matinee feature. Fans of the genre will pick up on a number of the sources for the creatures and storyline, but they'll still enjoy it. What variation of the same theme will Hollywood churn out next? Let's hope it's even better than this. Virus, after all, is a huge step above the insipid Depp Rising, last winter's horror-on-a-huge-ship-floating-in-the-middle-of-nowhere movie.

Virus is rated R for a lot of violence and gore sequences. It gets pretty intense at times, so I wouldn't recommend parents taking the youngsters to it.


(Out of five)

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