Jan 27, 1999 at 12:00 am

We’ve seen it all before: a Russian ghost ship looming ahead; a nightmarish storm; a crippled salvage tug approaching; a crew in desperate need of assistance. For a moment, in the midst of clumsy opening shots and choppy dialogue — as "abandon ship" sounds like a really good idea — we entertain the mad thought that this will get better, more exhilarating, even with a stolen plot line from Eco’s The Island of the Day Before in which a man is shipwrecked on a shipwreck and spends his days composing flowery prose: "Bereft of your gaze, I am blind for you see me not, dumb for you address me not, oblivious for you forget me."

But no. John Bruno’s Virus does not get better, despite the sweaty efforts of its cast. The Russian ship is not a floating book depository but the host of an intelligent energy force — fluent in Russian and English — which has found the perfect planet to inhabit. The planet has a small drawback, though: a virus called man.

"I think we as a race — humankind — have only the barest inkling of what’s out there," says producer Gale Ann Hurd. "I’m a firm believer that we are not alone, that life can take many different forms. In Virus, we postulate that there can be an electrical life form, and I don’t think that’s an outrageous possibility."

While Captain Everton (Donald Sutherland) tries to negotiate with "The Thing" — "Who are you?" "I am aware," it replies — Kit Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), Nadia (Joanna Pacula) and Steve Baker (William Baldwin) try to destroy it. The rest of the crew — involuntary sidekicks or exotic others — disappear at regular intervals to be used as spare parts for the Creature’s biomechanoid body. Anything to make itself ambulatory is its motto, and it’s pretty damn serious about the project as it squashes brains and digs into viscera.

After all, it may look like all the Aliens glued together, but it also has a touch of the Borg, and that has taught it that resistance is futile and that being "a collective" is nothing to be ashamed of.

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