Watching Outbreak is like getting under the covers with a familiar paperback. You know exactly how it is going to end, but you just want to let things unfold anyway. The couple passages you had forgotten and are unexpected, seem to provide more joy than they really ought to. And when all is done and you're drifting off to sleep, there isn't much you can recollect about what just happened.

Based on the novel by Robin Cook, Outbreak is the story of the outbreak of an infectious disease in the US. A disease that is so quick and deadly that it has a mortality rate of a 100% within a matter of hours. Not only is it dangerous, but the disease seems to develop an uncanny ability to morph into something completely different in a matter of a few generations. And yes, underlying it all is the rogue officer and the supposed penchant of the military to weaponize everything they can lay their hands on.

What really rescues the movie is its star powered cast. Col. Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) is a brilliant, neurotic and surprisingly out of touch military doctor who specializes in the study of viruses of the more deadly persuasion. He is in the process of finalizing his divorce from his wife and colleague Robby Keough (Rene Russo). Both presumably met during work, fell in love and got married, before Keough discovered that her husband's IQ did not necessarily translate into a great EQ. The Colonel's boss is Brig. Gen. Billy Ford (Morgan Freeman), who saddles the fine line between the demands of the military during the cold war and this thing called the conscience. Yes, the characters are exactly as they sound, which is what makes the movie seem so effortless. Who, in their right minds, can resist Freeman barking orders while having monologues with his inner demons?

Oh yes, and Kevin Spacey was there as well, as Maj. Casey Schuler. As the footnote may indicate, this is not the science fiction Spacey you are looking for; this is. Cuba Gooding Jr. as Maj. Salt and Donald Sutherland as Maj. Gen. Donald McClintock rounded out the star power.

Robin Cook made his bones writing mysteries laced with passably accurate medical know how. However, all pretense at being accurate was tossed out of the screenplay during approximately the third scene. The virus was little more than an mass emergency, that justified mobilizing a number of armored vehicles and helicopters. As a period piece, it did reflect upon the craziness of an era where the pursuit of biological weapons seemed like a good idea. But beyond that and the usual bashing of "the man" there wasn't much one could take away from the movie.

What Outbreak lacked in story, it made up in a star cast. What it missed in accuracy, it made up in surprisingly genuine chemistry between the different characters. Outbreak is further proof that good science fiction movies do not come with good science. They are fiction first, the science is merely gobbledygook that makes up the dialogue and justifies the use of super cool explosives.

March 23, 2011


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