Movie Review: “Contagion”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, September 9, 2011 at 9:52 am.


Summary: After traveling to Hong Kong, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) dies from an unknown virus. The mysterious and highly contagious virus spreads rapidly, wiping out populations across the globe. With no vaccine and treatment, the world is in hysteria.

Review: Before you go see Contagion grab the Lysol and buy everything anti-bacterial — this apocalyptic thriller is not for hypochondriacs.  The movie plays on our worst fears — invisible germs polluting our daily lives. Random shots of handrails, cellphones and a quick touch of the face haunt the viewer like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. Then there is the one-liner that echoes in your mind long after you leave the theater: “The average person touches his face three to five times every waking minute.” The villain is germs and no one can escape!

Considering the avian flu, West Nile virus and the swine flu, a viral thriller was overdue. Yes, we’ve all seen when-virus’-attack films, especially in 1995’s Outbreak, which starred Morgan Freeman and Cuba Gooding Jr. The newest remix of an overly told tale is not groundbreaking  and could’ve easily been titled: Contagion: Outbreak 2011 Bird Flu Remix. But hey, this is Hollywood — who’s looking for originality?

Directed by the always stylish Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns, the audience gets a day-by-day glimpse at the tragic results of a killer virus. The conclusion? We’d all turn into savages, from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to the average American.

The bulk of Contagion is the scientific and sometimes exhaustive details of the who, what, where and when of the virus. Burns wrote a smart script which appears to be fairly accurate. However, a wave fatigue can easily weigh down audiences with the high context language and stuffy characters. Jargon like “R naughts,” “MEV-1″ and “protean” minimize the thriller to a 3 a.m. documentary for the Discovery Channel.  Nonetheless, the first hour is effective, focusing on  how quickly the virus jumps from person to person. Despite the film’s lack of heart and soul, Soderbergh generated enough tension to mutate some solid scares — even though you might need a science whiz to interpret the Mr. Spock-like lingo.

Contagion’s biggest problem is its overcrowded, A-list cast. The film does not have enough running time (105 minutes) for some of Hollywood’s biggest box office draws: Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet (the Oscar winner could play 2Pac in a biopic and I would believe her), Sanaa Lathan (unfortunately, no more than 15 minutes of screen time for the Broadway diva, but she was memorable) and others. Their screen time is evenly spread out, which results in never having an emotional interest in one of the many plots.  In addition, the instant ending will disappoint some viewers.  One can only assume there was no other way to tie the band of story lines together. The fictional MV-1 virus had more character development than any of the characters combined.

If politics-meets-science thriller is your type of flick, you’ll definitely enjoy. That said, as grim as the flick is, it should not be taken seriously. The movie is all Hollywood and has the same message as a Softsoap commercial — wash your hands. Furthermore, Contagion has more of an affect after you leave the theater. Mark my words: You’ll never hear a cough the same way again.

Side note: Why do these Hollywood “outbreak” films always have a disease that originates in Africa or Asia? Can’t Europe or North America harbor a deadly virus? But I digress…

Contagion is in theaters today.

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