In her monthly column, guff-film buff Diane Spencer sorts the cinematic wheat from the chaff, then throws all the wheat away. This month: diseased monkeys and exploding hazmat suits rule in 1995 howler Outbreak.
Oh NO! We’re all going to die of haermoorrgenic…haymoorgenetic…hedge-o-matic…I can’t pronounce, let alone spell whatever it is, so let’s call it MONKEY POX. Monkey pox is going to kill us all. Quick, cling-film the hummus!
In Outbreak (directed by Wolfgang ‘Das Boot’ Petersen), a monkey is infected with the Motaba virus – a heemoogoojelly fever which causes bleeding from the face and liquefaction of internal organs. The monkey, however, isn’t affected by the disease, nor is he harmed by the bombs dropped by bomb-happy army general Donald Sutherland. Why? No idea. Still, on with the plot.
The illegal transportation of said monkey from Zaire to the US causes the whole population of a Californian town to be reduced to human milkshake, so Donald – hell-bent on harnessing the pox for his own dastardly potential-biological-weapon ends – wants to blow everyone up in order to conceal the virus’s existence.
To the rescue are divorced husband and wife Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo. Dustin is an army medic specialising in deadly diseases, and Rene is a bigwig at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Dustin and Rene don’t have kids, but they have dogs, and in between asking, “Who’s looking after the dogs if we’re both fighting the virus?” they use this disgusting disease to face what’s really important – that they still love each other, and they can always get a dog sitter.
“It’s got shouty homoerotic army man tension, it’s got romantic tension in hazmat suits, it’s got monkey infection tension and it’s got who-is-looking-after-the-dogs tension.”
The pace is hysterical and the dialogue is preposterous but the cast is seriously impressive. Kevin Spacey plays a wisecracking lab assistant who’s seen it all, ‘Nam style. Cuba Gooding Jr is the new guy on the disease team with a neat line in helicopter stunts. Morgan Freeman is there to do what he does best – make lingering eye contact with the rest of the cast and deliver ethical speeches in honey-coated tones that creak like a warm whisky barrel. The monkey, meanwhile, is played by the very monkey that played Ross’s monkey in Friends, a fact that lends an unexpectedly nostalgic note to scenes in which he’s being kidnapped, smuggled onto a boat, abandoned in a forest, shot, drugged and shot at again while squatting in a helicopter with Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr. Outbreak is basically The Hangover, but funny.
An interesting note about this stupendously stupid film: no one has a clue how to be careful with his/her hazmat suit. Rene stabs herself with a needle, straight through two pairs of gloves. Kevin Spacey’s suit is on some kind of bungee cord and he ends up tearing himself a new toilet flap. Dustin has a rip in his suit that he fixes with duct tape. Cuba Gooding Etc is sick into his suit before ripping it open. If this is how the professionals do it, it’s a wonder we’re not all liquid meat sacks by now.
The film starts with clichés, charges through a series of plot holes and ascends to an absolutely ludicrous finale, where for no discernible reason Dustin and Cuba solve all their problems by leaping into a stolen helicopter before hunting down Chinese tankers, becoming a floating blockade for a bomber plane and then holding a local television station hostage.
It’s utterly bonkers. Throughout it all, no matter what Dustin and Cuba do, bitchy Donald is still desperate to blow up the aforementioned Californian town, to the point where I think he’s just really hooked on the idea of seeing something, anything, blown up.
This is a film that will entertain everyone because of the TENSION. It’s got shouty homoerotic army man tension, it’s got romantic tension in hazmat suits, it’s got monkey infection tension and it’s got who-is-looking-after-the-dogs tension.
Fun idea: watch this hysterical end-of-days soap opera and have a drink every time a medical professional makes a basic hygiene error. Et voilà: within minutes your soupified innards will mirror those of the hapless monkey pox victims.
Would I watch it again: Hell yes.
Would I recommend it to a friend: Yes, especially anyone considering a trip to Central Africa.1781 Views
Diane Spencer is a standup comedian and writer. Her favourite genres include comedy, horror and sci-fi. Loves halloumi.