Quarantine (2000)

This “outbreak” felt more like a mild case of the sniffles.

Main Cast: Harry Hamlin and Nastassja Kinski

Director: Chuck Bowman

Can’t get enough TV movies with Harry Hamlin as The President or Nastassja Kinski as a CDC scientist? Have I got a treat for you.  Quarantine!

In this 2000 TV movie from ABC, President Harry is forced to order a nationwide quarantine when a dangerous virus that Dr. Kinski’s CDC special ops team had confiscated from a terrorist cell calling itself Gleaming Sword is damaged in a plane crash at Heathrow.

President Harry removes himself to a small island off the coast, but because his daughter had ditched her Secret Service detail to make out with her boyfriend in the woods, forcing the First Lady to wait back at the house for her, they miss their chance to make it to the island with the President and are forced to wait out the quarantine in what I assume is a rented house in Washington–the state, not the nation’s capital.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nastassja is called to the CDC labs where she, along with everyone else, will be holed up until they can find a cure for this disease which is sweeping the nation. Her daughter has to stay at their house with Dr. Kinski’s mother-in-law (Kinski’s husband died from some undisclosed illness, which has to be a pretty big blow to someone who works for the CDC).

Days turn into weeks, then months, while the country falls apart and the world population dwindles. Just as Kinski’s daughter is set to come for a weekend sleepover, an accident in the lab causes the virus to be released inside the building, causing a lockdown and infecting everyone.

Back on the island, a smarmy little man tricks his way onto the runway by packing up his private jet with 12 “charity” kids, knowing the President won’t shoot down a plane full of children. He WILL, however, order everyone on the plane to live there until the quarantine is lifted. Unbeknownst to the President, one of the adult passengers works for the Gleaming Sword and he’s got a sample of the virus in his pocket, which he plans to release, killing President Harry.

And in the CDC lab, after weeks of work with no results, we finally discover that Dr. Nastassja Kinski, along with 10% of the population, carries a particular anti-body needed to fight off the infection.

Success.

They synthesize a cure inside the chicken pox virus and release it into the world just in time to save the President’s wife.

Now, I suppose, under the right circumstances, that could sound like a pretty interesting and exciting movie. It isn’t. I didn’t mention the endlessly repetitive scenes of human drama wrapped up in one cliché after another, broken up by the occasional bad delivery of terrible dialogue.

President Harry: I have a state dinner, you understand.
Daughter: Of course I understand. You have a state dinner.

Well, as long as we cleared that up. And later, when the plane-terrorist pulls a gun, the doctor exclaims, “Oh my God!”, to which the plane-terrorist replies with the easiest, most predictable line ever written, “I’m God now, doctor!”

Groan.

If it’s any consolation, this one seems to have been quite the career killer. The story came from Lawrence Horowitz, who had quite the resume of producer credits from 1986 to 2000, but never worked again after this movie. And the duo who wrote the actual script, Steven and Audrey Salzburg, likewise, haven’t written anything since–and they only had one credit, for an episode of “The Hunger” before this.

Chuck Bowman directed, and he is the epitome of a TV director, having worked on episodes of just about anything you can think of from “Riptide” and “TJ Hooker” to “The Pretender” and “She Spies”. And that “expertise” is evident in every frame of this one. That’s not a compliment. There’s not a moment of real tension, very weak and unsuccessful attempts at character development, and a pace that practically screams “We gotta fit all this in before the next commercial break!”

I actually have respect for Harry Hamlin. He was Perseus, after all, and Clash of the Titans was a huge part of my childhood. So I can’t really blame him–fully–for the terrible performance here. The script is wretched, after all. At the same time, though, I wish he had at least pretended to be trying to shine through the muck. This felt like a total paycheck movie. Kinski might as well be sleeping through the entire movie, and that’s hard to say because, much like Hamlin’s’81 movie, Kinski made one in ‘82 that also shaped a big part of the direction my life would take. So I came into this one thinking, Well, at least if it’s bad, I like the main stars.

Nope. Not this time around. Hell, I didn’t even know ABC was still making TV movies in 2000!

I never got a clear sense of what this disease is, what it does–other than kill, which it appears to do by making your face break out in splotches of purple make-up–or how it’s transmitted. I assumed it was airborne, since it made its way from Heathrow to the US without anyone actually touching it after the plane crash, but everyone seems to still be milling about outside. The President is on his private island, sure, but he’s still going outside the house, there are army soldiers taking a break out on the runway when the plane comes in. Kinski’s daughter goes to the CDC lab for her overnight stay to find dozens of TV news crews stationed outside, none of them in hazmat suits.

And, sure, they show stock footage of riots and looting on the news, but as far as I could tell from watching this movie, the infection looked pretty much restricted to these two locations, the island and the CDC building. There were shots later in a sports arena where a makeshift hospital has been set up, but that’s down the block from the house where the First Lady is staying. Hardly a global epidemic.

I’m hard pressed to discern what the point was in making this movie. It came six years after the TV version of King’s The Stand. We already had Outbreak five years earlier. Did we need another epidemic movie? And did it have to be one where the stakes feel so low? I never felt endangered watching this one. I never felt a sense of impending doom that made me want to build a Upson Pratt-style bunker in the middle of nowhere. I mean, if the woman from the CDC is letting her daughter travel across town out in the open so she can spend the night with her mother at work, how dangerous could it really be?

I just didn’t get it with this one. I can’t recommend a movie where I didn’t feel any tension, where the climax was, literally, 2 minutes of a young girl riding a bike across town to her mother’s work after her grandmother slips on the stairs and bruises her hip. The musical cues here tell us we’re supposed to be worried, that something bad might happen to her on the way, but we care so little about her, we’re not invested. Instead, we’re more concerned with the fact we just blew 88 minutes of the day we’re never getting back, and all we have to show for it is that we now know the plot to 2000’s Quarantine?!? Thanks for nothing, ABC!

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