Friday, 26 February 2016

Disaster Film Olympiad: Outbreak

If there's been an outbreak, it is probably monkeys. It usually is. They're dirty. They wee all over their hands and then touch all the bananas in the bowl, not just the ones they were going to eat, and then you've got AIDS and Ebola all in your mouth in one go.

Zaire, 1967: a devastating virus with Ebola-like symptoms called Motaba has ravaged the camp in the jungle where the US army - who were propping up the CIA-sponsored coup d'etat of General Mobutu - are based. It's bad stuff, this Motaba virus, one of those nearly always lethal viral haemmorhagic fever things that makes you unwelcome company at all but the most unruly church fetes. In fact, the mortality rate and its infectiousness are so high that the American government enact Operation Clean Sweep, which sees the afflicted area cleansed by the dropping of a massive incendiary device. Which is what happens when you don't have socialised healthcare.

In spite of the rigour and unimpeachable moral standards of their decision, by 1995 Motaba is rearing its ugly head again, making every fart a mortal risk. Unfortunately, greed and military cover-ups abound, resulting in a monkey who is a carrier of the virus being shipped to the United States for use in animal testing, which is wrong on any number of levels.

In fact, it turns out that karma is a stone cold bitch. The monkey busily infects everyone who crosses her path, probably via the old wee banana shim-sham. By the time she is smuggled out of the Biotech lab by Patrick Dempsey, to be sold as a pet on the black market in Cedar Creek, California, there's a whole world of hurt brewing across the continental United States. Not least for the kind of selfless, hazmat-suited, wrecklessly brave infectious disease specialists whose job it is to sort out this kind of mess. People like Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo, a recently divorced couple who until this point thought that their biggest problem was who got custody of their dogs. With the military high-ups planning a dastardly repeat of Operation Clean Sweep on home ground, our heroes (by this stage in various stages of infectiousness, naturally) face a race against time to identify, find and capture Patient Zero, get hold of their juices and fashion an antidote. Preferably one that can be administered with a hosepipe. Plot twist: Patient Zero is, as you may already know, a monkey. Who lives in a tree.


Outbreak is the kind of film that you can put together like a jigsaw. Everything you are expecting to happen happens and roughly in that order. There are moustache-twirlingly evil career military men who view humanity as nothing but a series of statistics and calculations of collateral damage. There are good hearted scientists doing battle with a lethal yet invisible foe. There's panic, there is death, pestilence and gruesome chapped lip make-up. Kevin Spacey - then at the height of the part of his movie career where he'd die in every film in which he appeared - also duly obliges, falling victim to the kind of torn hazmat suit japes in the laboratory which would probably have been reasonably funny had the stakes not been quite so high.

Oddly, it is no less of a film for it. The thrills and spills (mostly bodily fluids in the latter case) are ramped up at a pleasing pace, while the fundamental truth that the ins and outs of immunology is probably a little complicated and dry a subject for a Hollywood blockbuster are adroitly sidestepped with a neat blend of expositional graphics and SHOUTING. It's a familiar old warm jumper of a film, one which rewards repeat viewings.

All of this and the monkey survives. Kevin Spacey should perhaps have had a word with their agent. Outbreak gets an all-your-organs-are-liquifying-and-pouring-out-of-every-hole SEVEN out of 10 disaster points.

1 comment:

Betsy said...

And the monkey is called Betsy, which is just extra excellent.

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