As news of COVID-19, a deadly strain of the otherwise fairly harmless coronavirus, sweeping across the world seems to get more and more bleak every single day, I figured that now would be as good of a time as any to finally watch Outbreak. Or rather, my mom, who loved that film when she first saw it, did, and I decided to see once and for all what was apparently so great about it. Spoiler alert: pretty much nothing.
“But Ben, you still gave it a 5/10. There must have been something in it that you liked”, you’re probably saying right now. Maybe I gave the film that rating because it’s ultimately harmless (pun intended) enough to warrant passing a couple hours with if you’re seriously bored or sick (not necessarily from COVID-19, of course), but that doesn’t mean I liked it. Sure, Outbreak isn’t a completely terrible movie, but if it had been, it at least would have been more entertaining than what it actually was, which is bland, uninspired, and boring. In other words, a complete bore that doesn’t even work as a mildly amusing “guilty pleasure”.
In case you didn’t already pick this up from the lazy, subtle-as-a-sledgehammer title, Outbreak is about, well, an outbreak of a deadly virus that spreads across a small American town as a result of some idiot smuggling a diseased monkey to America, trying to trade it off at a local pet store, and just dumping it in the woods when that doesn’t work. Pretty soon, both the smuggler and the pet shop owner are very, very sick, and everything keeps getting worse from there.
As dumb as it may sound from my above description, this is a premise that actually has some real potential, even with many of the characters in it being stupid as a brick (Kevin Spacey’s in particular, who accidentally rips open his protective hazmat suit in an infected area and then lies about that for literally no reason). So of course Hollywood is going to completely butcher it into another dull cliché-fest that has no tension, no anxiety, no edge, no surprises, and literally ends with a big helicopter chase. Because when I think deadly viruses, the very first thing that springs to mind are big helicopter chases. (And ham-fisted environmental messages, which are shoved right down our throats in the film’s opening bit.)
I realize that my previous statement says that the film has “no edge”, and I would like to clarify that. Outbreak is rated R, but that’s literally only the case because of a few f-words. If this type of profanity was consistently used in the dialogue to illustrate the sense of panic and fear that should have really been felt by the characters in such a horrific situation, it would have made perfect sense.
Instead, the ten occurrences of it that actually do occur (yes, I counted) are so random and unnatural that I’m questioning why they even had to be included in the first place. If the studio was trying to use that rating to fool audiences into thinking that Outbreak was really graphic and extreme based on its subject matter (which it isn’t), then whatever, but considering that this film otherwise screams “lightweight PG-13 fun”, they would have had a much safer bet shooting for that.
Then again, even if it was PG-13, it’s not like Outbreak would be an effective contagion anyway. It tries to be a comedy, relationship drama (no, seriously), suspense thriller, and action movie, and fails at literally all four. The comedy isn’t even remotely funny, the drama is far too forced to be effective, the thrills just aren’t, and the attempts at action are pretty boring (not to mention preposterous).
Why big name actors such as Dustin Hoffman (very awkwardly playing someone in the army) and Cuba Gooding Jr. were in this film is simply beyond me, but hey, I guess they have to make money off of gullible audiences somehow. Don’t let yourself be among them.