When first-time director John Bruno showed Virus to his mentor James Cameron, it apparently went down a treat. But then the director of The Abyss and Titanic could hardly fail to warm to a movie which can be summed up in four words: Aliens on a boat.
Virus is the latest addition to the bloated ranks of popcorn pics in which a group of hapless suckers are gradually and gruesomely picked off by an unseen foe. The transparently villainous Captain Everton (Sutherland) tussles with the blandly virtuous Steve (Baldwin), Kit (Curtis) and foxy Russian scientist Nadia (Pacula), while the rest of the cast blunder around investigating strange noises and trying to befriend self-building robots. The fools.
To be fair, there is an inkling of intelligence in the set-up. The idea that humanity is the infection - so far as the virus is concerned - lends the title a neat double meaning. And with horror stories about the possible impact of the millennium bug, the well-worn idea of technology turning on its masters has a certain currency. It also looks fantastic thanks to Bruno, an Oscar-winning visual-effects wizard who's been working with Cameron for years. The Russian ship, eerily silent in the eye of the storm, appears at first like a hi-tech Marie Celeste, while the jungle of wires and cables and the scuttling, insectoid robots also make for arresting images.
Unfortunately, all pretence of a brain-stimulating plot is swiftly dropped once the killing begins, and the film becomes as simplistic as the comic book on which it's based: gore, explosions and increasingly daft-looking robots. The dialogue is the worst offender: lines like "You mean it's like lightning that can think?" can only provide unintentional hilarity. At one point, Sutherland, hamming it up like a man who's only thinking about his pay cheque, snaps: "No more of this Twilight Zone shit!" Audiences can only sympathise.