Virus (review)

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Game Over, Man

Oh, it’s a bad time to be a robot. In a year and a half we’ve gone from the cute little Pathfinder thingy roaming about on Mars to the evil, insectile machine creatures of Virus.

Out in the middle of the Pacific, a Russian satellite-communications ship — incredibly well-outfitted, with robotics labs and supercomputers and such, for a country that doesn’t have toilet paper — receives a powerful transmission from an impossibly spacious and technologically advanced Mir space station. When a group of salvagers comes across the ship days later, they find it seemingly abandoned. But its computers have been taken over by the alien intelligence transmitted down from Mir and the nasty robots the intelligence is building.
Naturally, these salvagers are a bunch of idiots who have never seen Aliens. Their leader, Everton (Donald Sutherland), inexplicably has a Scottish name and an Irish accent so lame my movie companion expected him to say “Ah, the aliens are after me Lucky Charms!” Tonight the role of Carter Burke (Paul Reiser in Aliens) will be played by Everton. Kelly Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis) will be Ripley. Steve Baker (William Baldwin) will be Hicks. Nadia (Joanna Pacula), the sole Russian survivor, will be Newt.

Lest other movie franchises feel left out, Virus steals much from Star Trek as well. The alien in the ship’s computer is not only building little robot monsters, it’s also incorporating the bodies of the Russians — and, one by one, the savalgers — into its machine creations. Cyborgs are hardly a Trek invention, but the part-human/part-machine beings in Virus are so visually like Trek‘s Borg that it’s shameful. I’d have had a lot more respect for Virus if it had at least winked at this by having a character say, “Hey, didn’t I see this on Star Trek?”

I spent a good deal of Virus trying to figure out the Russian thing. The technology seems too shiny and sparkly for the economic disaster that is Russia, so why did the filmmakers bother? Why not make the derelict ship American and have the alien transmit down from an orbiting space shuttle? And then I sussed it: One of the salvagers puts the ship’s value at $300 million (and that seems, frankly, an underestimate), and the U.S. Navy would never let something so valuable go missing without bothering to look for it. Only the Russians would be that stupid — or so the minds behind Virus seem to believe.

But that’s indicative of the skewed sensibility of Virus. Why does this superadvanced intelligence want to kill humans? It’s so different in nature from us that neither of us could pose any kind of threat to the other — except by the reasoning of a cheesy sci-fi film. (We humans kick ass, right? Of course we’re a danger to the universe.) Why does this superadvanced intelligence, which is doing just fine and dandy with the inorganic robots it’s building, want to incorporate humans into its designs? Again, it’s pure Hollywood arrogance that ensures our frail and fragile bodies are of interest to an alien. Aliens and Star Trek at least have come up with reasonable explanations for their nasty aliens’ need for us: as breeders and as sources of creativity. Virus adds insult to injury by not even bothering to come up with a reason.

Worst of all, Virus missed the obvious solution to its computer problem. Okay, so you’ve got something taking over your mainframe. Just install Microsoft Internet Explorer — it’s the most effective method of taking over a computer known to humankind, and even the most advanced extraterrestrial intelligence certainly would be no match for the evil geniuses of Redmond.

Virus was written by Dennis Feldman (who also wrote Species and produced Species II) and Jonathan Hensleigh (who wrote Armageddon and produced Con Air). With that kind of talent behind this movie, it’s truly disappointing that Virus isn’t even bad even to be funny. It’s so unmemorable that I couldn’t recall what movie I had seen while the credits were rolling.

But then I went home and watched Aliens and felt much better.

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