Contagion (Rated R) 5 Stars09-21-11-contagion.jpg

The creepy children in the Tyson’s chicken commercial that has been attached to movies for the last few weeks can no longer go unmentioned. It might be the weirdly hostile smiling, or it might be the supernatural rings of white light in their beady little eyes, but either way I am getting a real Children of the Damned vibe off the precious little tots.

So, onto the plagues! Contagion (105 minutes) opens with a sickly looking Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) on what the ominously red locator stamp helpfully tells us is Day 2. Beth is talking to someone on the phone, and she seems a bit under the weather. She blissfully sticks her virus covered hands into pub-licly shared bowls of food, passes germy money around the bar, and makes sure to fondle pens and chairs to share the bacterial goodness as much as possible. I resolve to start wearing plastic gloves everywhere I go and to stock up gallons of water and medical-grade sterilizing equipment. Do you think we could get out of our economic slump if everyone went out and bought a ton of hand sanitizer?

Once Beth has coughed and sneezed on several hundred people or so, she heads home to pass it along to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and son Clark (Griffin Kane). After establishing that the infection is fast moving and pretty deadly, the focus shifts to Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), working at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He identifies a cluster of deaths in Minneapolis, and sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to figure out what they are dealing with. The scene shifts in between these major players and Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) from the World Health Organization

.Dr. Orantes travels to Hong Kong in an attempt to trace the origins of the mystery disease. She manages to trace it to this one guy who refuses to wash his hands after going to the bathroom. She makes a lot of new friends in Hong Kong, all of whom are very reluctant for her to leave. Not that there’s any major exploration of this, or any real payoff to the plot point.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) begins try-ing to sequence the virus so a vaccine can be manufactured. Remember how in Outbreak that took about 15 minutes? Well, Dr. Hextall suggests the timeline to produce a vaccine will be more like 15 months. Good thing she is overestimating quite a bit, since engaging in unethical experimentation on herself ap-parently speeds up the FDA approval process quite a bit. If only this were a different kind of movie, all this casual injecting would have turned half the population into brain-starved zombies. Oh well. This is almost as good!

While the good doctor works on prevention strategies, con-spiracy blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) finds a measure of credibility in attacking Dr. Cheever and Big Pharm frequently, publicly and, if we’re being fair, sort of accurately. He wanders the streets in a home-made bio-containment suit leaving flyers under windshield wipers, which seems to be a little pointless. After all, in state of medical emergency where most of the popu-lation is sick or scared of getting sick, and there is nowhere to go even if you could find gas, how many people are checking their cars?

As is common with Soderbergh, there is a documentary feeling to the film. The action occurs on a realistic timeline, and the cold scientific terminol-ogy, though adding emotional distance, serves to underscore the real risk of a deadly global pandemic. The only real flaw with the film is the lack of character development and the speed with which some of the characters are dispatched. Obviously, not everyone in an ensemble cast of this size and quality will get equal screen time. But when the audience is left wondering about character motivation, that signals the need to either increase the length of the film or decrease the number of characters.

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