HAVE YOU CHECKED OUT STREAMING PANDEMIC FILMS YET?
OUTBREAK, 1995 , R — Has work been called off for good? Have you become overly familiar with the inside of your home? Why not snuggle up on the couch once more with your loved one, really embrace this thing they call ‘social distancing,’ and queue up a fun, entertaining disaster pic? My wife and I were scanning the playlists of ‘Trending Now’ on Netflix and we spotted Outbreak. I hadn’t seen it in years. Only remembered bits and pieces. And a monkey.
It actually starts out pretty good. After an infected African village gets bombed by the military (not good, but completely plausible), the hero CDC doctor, played solidly by Dustin Hoffman, gets a call to rescue another African village under quarantine. This occurs just after a few simple, but effective opening scenes between him and his recently divorced wife, played by Rene Russo. Note: it’s easy to see that these two will end up back together — that was my wife’s call. He and his team, including THE Cuba Gooding Jr. (who loses his lunch after seeing a dead villager), arrive to find the inhabitants already dead, the village leader issuing grave warnings, and a medicine man dancing on the mountain top. Roll the ominous soundtrack.
Moments later, an African monkey carrying the killer virus gets captured and shipped off to the black market. We see the initial spread of the Ebola-like virus, known as ‘Motaba,’ dramatized in an efficient, spooky way. After a lab worker, a grungy Patrick Dempsey, attempts to sell the infected monkey to a pet store owner, it only takes a little scratch, saliva, and a sneeze to get this bug cooking. Things culminate with another infected victim, who uncontrollably coughs in a movie theater, until we zoom in and see all the sinister, deadly particles floating into people’s laughing, open mouths. Lesson learned: if there’s a comedy playing at your local cinema, skip it.
But then the movie settles down after the military quarantines a town in Northern California…and never goes beyond that point. It almost feels as if the film’s budget stopped there too. Despite Hoffman’s character frantically searching for a vaccine while butting heads with bad-guy military vets, Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland, the story stalls and gets boring quickly. Once the threat of the virus gets contained, the suspense goes down the drain. Scenes of town citizens trying to escape, only to get arrested or killed by the army, aren’t nearly as shocking as they could be. And Hoffman’s character eventually becomes this unstoppable superhero, zooming around in a helicopter from one place to the next, until I kid you not, the narrative climaxes with a little girl trying to coax the host monkey into her backyard.
Too bad. Movies like this need to build momentum, with not just one town going down for the count, but possibly the entire world. If you don’t believe me, check out the epic disaster flick, 2012. Ridiculous? Of course. Entertaining? If you check your brain at the door, it’s a blast. And it has way more fun with its ‘what-if’ scenario which is why we watch movies like these in the first place. For those seeking a more truthful, realistic depiction of a world-wide epidemic, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion nicely fits that bill (and chillingly reflects our times most accurately). But for now, if there’s anything to recommend in Outbreak, it’s Dustin Hoffman expertly (and repeatedly) dropping the F-bomb.