I say start with a cliché and never stop. It’s Monday, March 16th and the theaters in Anchorage have closed for the next few weeks. Maybe more. Who knows? I see that 1995’s monkey-virus movie Outbreak is number 6 on Netflix’s trending list. Is that ironic? Or is it cliché? I don’t really care, I love them both but more importantly I’ve never seen Outbreak and I worry if I don’t take life up on this clichéd ironic opportunity it’ll give me a new pandemic next month. I get it Life, I’ll watch the movie. Add it to the List. Currently number 418, right after Tammy and the T-Rex and right before The Ice Cream Man. Yeah, I know it’s not in List order but I don’t want to tempt fate.
Here’s what I know about this movie going in. Dustin Hoffman stars, I know from listening to Smodcast that there’s a monkey who transfers the virus to people. That’s about it. The movie starts out with this classic 90’s edgelord moment when Donald Sutherland and Morgan Freeman drop a bomb on a small village ravaged by a novel virus presumably killing everyone the virus has yet to kill and incinerating the bodies of the dead. All in the hopes of complete eradication of the lethal bug. It’s a crazy over the top try-hard moment common in 90’s action spectacles. It’s aliens blowing up the the White House, it’s Keanu Reeve’s skydiving without a parachute, it’s Eddie Griffin trying to survive the meteoric destruction of New York City. It’s sublime.
Outbreak clips along pretty quickly after that. We meet Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, Rene Russo, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Patrick Dempsey as patient zero cosplaying as a Pearl Jam Fan. Impressive cast, oh and shout out to Billy Stevenson of Workaholics fame for his role as the guy who let Patrick Dempsey get away with the monkey. Was it worth it Bill?
Overall, Outbreak isn’t fantastic. It’s a movie about scientist trying to contain and cure a viral disease. In reality that would be real boring. Just a bunch of people in biohazard suits running tests until they find a cure, formulate and distribute a vaccine then wait for the afflicted to heal and hope the virus didn’t evolve before they killed it to come back for Outbreak 2: This Time It’s Pustules. Instead of letting it get boring they toss a bunch of high-drama low-likelihood events in the mix. Kevin Spacey gets sleepy and rips his suit exposing himself to the virus. Oops? Rene Russo pricks her finger with an infected needle. Ouchie. Donald Sutherland gets presidential approval to murder Cuba Gooding Jr. and Dustin Hoffman. But they have a better idea, a 30 minute helicopter chase ending a dumb helicopter vs. bomber game of midair chicken. What a ride.
This is one of many epic disaster ensemble films the 90’s reveled in. The cast is great. I think you’re supposed to think Dustin Hoffman is an idealistic hero who’s the only person standing between mankind and liquified organs but then he plays it like he’s barely keeping a straight face through a scary Jack Nicholson impression. I loved that sliver of silliness.
Couple of questions about the movie. Why exactly did Donald Sutherland want to keep the serum a secret? Because it would expose him for experimenting with a bioweapon? A bioweapon he had a serum for? A serum he couldn’t share with the world because if news broke that the only reason they had the serum was because they used the virus on innocent third world villagers? But it’s a serum they kept at the military’s version of the CDC… but no one ever does inventory there so they no one but Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland know about it?
Next question. Sometimes people die from disease, and sometimes they beat it but can’t recover from the damage to their body. The virus in Outbreak apparently liquifies your organs like seafood left out overnight, yet somehow after patients are given the cure they recover in a matter of… days? It’s super unclear and overall insignificant so whatever I guess it doesn’t matter. That’s the true sign of a good movie, not caring if it makes any sense as long as you paid for it.