johnlink ranks OUTBREAK (1995)

Sometimes I feel as though I saw every major film release of the 1990s. I don’t say that as a way of bragging, I promise. Instead, it points to my dork-leaning high school years in which I saw everything I could. Somehow, I missed OUTBREAK when it came out, despite having some of my favorite actors. Seventeen years later, I finally got it in.

I watched OUTBREAK (1995) on 10.13.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Some amazing talent crosses the screen here. Kevin Spacey, fresh off of SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (though both SE7EN and USUAL SUSPECTS would hit theaters later in 1995). Morgan Freeman’s last two films had been THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and UNFORGIVEN (and, did I mention SE7EN would come out later in 1995). Dustin Hoffman had long-established his prestigious career, ditto Donald Sutherland. Rene Russo had just had a career-highlight role in holding her own opposite Mel Gibson in LETHAL WEAPON 3. Cuba Gooding Jr. was a year away from making his mark in JERRY MAGUIRE and Patrick Dempsey was a decade away from becoming McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy. Heck, even the monkey in this movie is the same monkey who played Ross’ pet on Friends.

With all this talent, especially so much strong dramatic talent, you would think a film about a deadly virus devastating a small town would be heavy and serious-minded. And, true, at times this movie attempts to be serious and heavy-minded. The result, in the end, is disjointed and unconvincing.

Col. Daniels (Hoffman) is a doctor who specializes in disease control. He finds a new deadly virus, only the proliferation of information is slowed by his boss General Ford (Freeman), and Ford’s boss General McClintock (Sutherland). Instead of quickly containing a virus it spreads through a small town. Daniels and his colleagues (Spacey and Gooding) head to the town, and meet fellow bio-doc Robby Keough (Russo), who also happens to be Daniels’ very-ex-wife.

Films of this sort are often heavy on science, as they should be. We see the development of the bug and learn some concrete facts about how perilous our entire human system is. Instead of going that route, OUTBREAK instead is a movie about how our government is looking for an excuse to make biological weapons, even if it means dropping a giant bomb on a small American town.

Logic, as this film progresses, spirals out of control. The checks-and-balances of military and the spreading of information is ignored entirely, allowing McClintock to barrel further and further towards becoming a willing murderer of innocent people, as long as his career remains untarnished.

The downfall of this movie, as Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, is that it never develops a purposeful identity. It wants to be taken seriously, yet it disregards science. It wants to be light action, but kills off innocent families. It wants to make a point about the ruthless military, yet neuters itself ultimately on this point. The movie never finds its footing, and so it devolves into a simple action flick for the third act.

The acting isn’t too bad. Hoffman works his ass off in the hero’s role, though the script doesn’t give him all it could. Freeman is wasted in the moral-guy-stuck-in-a-hard-place, though the movie waits far too long for him to unleash his true goodness. No moral person, in other words, would watch as much as he watches before stepping in. Russo is solid in the other doctor role, same as Gooding as a young member of the team. Spacey, surprisingly, provides the comic relief in this movie. He is the quick-witted friend/assistant for Hoffman.

Instead of his being a star-heavy film which really gets the most out of its cast (a la LOVE ACTUALLY) this instead feels more like the quick money grab with an underdeveloped script. I can see how all these actors thought this might have come together in some great way. Instead, we are privy to a mildly entertaining movie with little substance. It is too bad, to be sure, because the world could use more solid movies of this sort.





~ by johnlink00 on October 14, 2012.

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