Never catches on - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Never catches on

Sure, there are moments, but movie lacks spark

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Posted: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 3:00 am

Movie titles don’t always capture what is presented onscreen. Take, for example, “Snakes on a Plane,” a while back. Critics loved the title, but hated the movie. Long before that was “Romancing the Stone.” Critics hated the title, but loved the movie.

Now we have “Contagion.” It’s a precise term, but a bland one. Hey, here’s one title that accurately depicts the movie.

Written by Scott Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) and directed by Stephen Soderbergh (“Ocean’s 13”), “Contagion” follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.

Despite the compelling subject matter, there were only a handful of riveting moments in the film. The story builds slowly, verrry slowly. If charted on a graph where 1 indicates motionless and 10 indicates through-the-roof action, “Contagion” would meander between four and 5.5. 

The elements for fine movie-making are there. It has a great cast, led by Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Kudos to Kate Winslet for her spot-on American accent.)

I liked its use of city names and populations along the bottom of the screen to indicate potential victims as the mysterious disease travels across country borders. I also liked the efficient way in which the scientific information is delivered. I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by it and I grasped the severity of the situation. And I responded to much of the background music, especially a periodic hard-driving melody that got my heartbeat pumping for a few minutes.

“Contagion” is not as infectious as “Outbreak,” the 1995 film that also featured an unknown virus. This current film’s story and characters never engaged me the way the older, and better, film grabbed me. (By the way, the ticket-taker told me “Contagion” was “10 times better” than “Outbreak.” Sorry. He was wrong in my book.)

Despite the flaws in “Outbreak,” I still rooted for Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as they sped across the sky in their helicopter, pleading with the military pilots to not drop a bomb on an infected town. That was good stuff.

“Contagion,” not so much, but it’s still a respectable way to spend an afternoon.

The film is rated PG-13 for disturbing content and some language. Running time: 102 minutes.

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