“Contagion” is a movie that sets out to explore what it would be like if PBS were ever given a feature film budget and asked to tack a variety of human interest stories onto one of the hottest pop-science topics of three years ago. Have you ever been curious to find out what would happen if a multi-national company’s encroachment into an Asian rain forest disturbed some kind of combination bat/bird/pig flu virus, which then infected a cast of completely lifeless cardboard cutouts? If so, then “Contagion” is for you.
In fact, judging by the virulence of the disease that wipes out tens of millions of people in a couple of weeks time, “Contagion” is essentially for everybody. Especially if you are Matt Damon’s cheating wife (played by a suitably sickly Gwyneth Paltrow) or a dedicated CDC researcher (Kate Winslet). In fact, this virus is so popular that even Jude Law pretends to catch it so that his blog will get more readers. Yes, as stupid as it sounds, in the world of “Contagion” infection = hits, which is a philosophy no doubt adapted from Jenny McCarthy’s inoculation = brain damage business model. Neither of which have found a wide audience.
And speaking of the audience, unfortunately neither you nor anyone you love will contract a fatal virus during the course of watching “Contagion.” Which is tragic, really. How I wished during the course of my exposure to this tepid pool of pus that some mysterious bacteria would creep into my body and quickly erode the connections between my synapses to the point where I would find a Gwyneth Paltrow autopsy scene entertaining. Why hasn’t medical science advanced to the point where each print of “Contagion” could ship with its very own Captain Trips, a disease so powerful that by the end of the trailers half of the row in front of you has had its facial flesh completely devoured? If the “Twilight” series can somehow unbalance the hormonal systems of an entire generation of tween girls, then surely “Contagion” can at least give me a runny nose, or an uncomfortable itch.
Ultimately, the failure of “Contagion” can’t be pinned on its inability to make me upchuck the boogie or the squishy remains of Paltrow’s brain tissue. “Contagion” sucks because it has absolutely no characters in it. When the disease that’s wiping out mankind has more of a personality – and a back story – than a crying Matt Damon or his uncomfortably immune daughter, then your script has a problem. I can’t wait for “Contagion 2,” where the President confronts the angry virus on Air Force One and has to make a difficult decision regarding his official policy of not negotiating with microbes.
Your move, evolution.
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