OUTBREAK. (1995) DIRECTED BY WOLFGANG PETERS. BASED ON RICHARD PRESTON’S 1994 NON-FICTION BOOK, ‘THE HOT ZONE.’
STARRING DUSTIN HOFFMAN, RENE RUSSO, MORGAN FREEMAN, DONALD SUTHERLAND, PATRICK DEMPSEY, KEVIN SPACEY, CUBA GOODING JR.
BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
God, I love a good plague or virus movie. CONTAGION (2011), the masterpiece that kills off the annoying Gwyneth Paltrow within the first ten minutes, is probably my favourite, although RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR (2006) is excellent too. That one’s about dirty bombs and chemical warfare, but it’s all the same thing, innit?
OUTBREAK, one of the most streamed films on Netflix during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic (I find that hilarious), probably isn’t the most technically or scientifically accurate movie about a pandemic.
Like, how come every infected person but Rene Russo dies a horrible, disgusting death that includes bleeding from the eyes like a statue of the Virgin Mary in a haunted grotto? An obvious flaw, but it’s still a great romp and references that great American institution, the CDC, or the Centres for Disease Control. You know you’re in for a good watch when they have to call in the CDC! I think they brought ‘em in to the Stephen King six-hour mini-series THE STAND (1994) as well. A great bunch of lads, the Chinese. Erm, I mean the CDC.
The diminutive method-acting Dustin Hoffman plays army medic Colonel Sam Daniels, MD. All the main men in this film play different ranks of army personnel, and, unless you know which rank supersedes which other rank, you’re apt to become a tad confused. Here’s a simple trick to following Who’s Who: Sam ranks higher than Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr., his old muckers and colleagues, but lower than Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland, the top brass. Got it…?
Sam’s ex-wife, Roberta ‘Robby’ Keough, MD, is an army medic too. They are going through a messy divorce when it’s obvious they still love each other and their two beautiful dogs. They should put the nonsense aside and have an honest conversation for once instead of all the sniping and snapping.
Anyway, the virus, right? It’s brought into America- Cedar Creek in California, to be exact- by an adorable disease monkey similar to the ones that people initially thought were responsible for the spread of AIDS.
A big dope called Jimbo steals the little critter from the animal testing laboratory where he works after it’s been smuggled into the country. He hopes to sell it to a pet shop on the black market, no questions asked, but before you can say, ‘we’d better put a call in to the CDC,’ Jimbo and the pet-shop owner are dead of the virus and the monkey is running amok in the woods after being released by a misguided Jimbo.
Dozens of Californians (not the Californians, they’re the beautiful people!) immediately catch the virus and die horribly. Sam wants to find a cure, for which he’ll need to find the monkey, but Donald Sutherland just wants to nuke the town of Cedar Creek in Operation Clean Sweep, something he did thirty years ago when the same virus showed up in a village in darkest Africa. He clearly just really loves to nuke stuff, and gets really annoyed when Sam keeps trying to stop him.
Dustin Hoffman is quite funny and endearing as Sam, the sort of loose cannon, maverick medic. He strides around the place standing up to his superiors (especially Morgan Freeman, who might know more about this virus than he’s letting on) and saying things like, ‘With all due respect, Brigadier, fuck you,’ when he’s about to contravene a direct order, which is most of the time.
The scene where Dustin Hoffman helicopters onto the exact right boat that brought the plague monkey into ‘Murica before helicoptering back off again is a little far-fetched. Sam’s speech to the soldiers who are tasked with dropping the bomb on poor old Cedar Creek is hokey in the extreme, mawkishly sentimental, but that’s the kind of fun, over-the-top disaster movie this is, lol.
I love the spooky scene where the nice, normal ordinary Cedar Creek mom has to leave her husband and kids and go somewhere unknown in order to be ‘isolated’ by the Army, who are of course working for the government. THE CDC, the CIA, the FBI, they all terrify me, even though I said earlier that the CDC were a great bunch of lads.
It’s just the thought of all the secrets they must have kept over the years, all the things they must have decided at the highest level that it wasn’t in the ‘public’s best interests’ to know.
And, if you’ve seen RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR, you too might have a fear of the Army turning up at your house one day in the middle of a terrifying public health crisis, but not to help you by bringing you bags of oranges and stores of penicillin…
It’s interesting to watch stuff like this in the context of our own recent pandemic. CONTAGION probably mirrors our COVID experiences the closest, with masks and self-isolation and vaccines and people who say the vaccines are a load of bollocks and all part of a wider government conspiracy and whatnot, but OUTBREAK is great craic too, and it vanishes from Netflix at the end of November, so chop chop! Catch it while you can, but not the virus. Definitely don’t catch that…