Review | Contagion

Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros.

Opens: Friday 9/9

Us Rating: ** 1/2

The setup is impossibly compelling: A beautiful businesswoman (Gwyneth Paltrow) coughs in a Chicago airport. She thinks it's jet lag. Two days later, she collapses into a deadly seizure in front of her panicked husband (Matt Damon). Turns out she's contracted a mysterious and lethal virus that spreads via touch. With such promise, this should have been an Outbreak-style thriller capable of spooking anyone who’s ever felt neurotic simply holding a handrail on a city bus.

Yet because Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh focuses more on the Centers for Disease Control and its alarming numbers (25 million dead! One in 12 afflicted!) than the victims, the audience feels little emotional attachment, which gives the film a cold, clinical feel. The collateral damage? Kate Winslet's arc as a CDC medic on assignment gets sidelined, and Marion Cotillard, playing a caring physician, barely registers.

Meanwhile, Jude Law's smug blogger hogs the screen with his finger-pointing and conspiracy theories. Only the strong-willed Damon -- who's consumed with protecting his quarantined daughter -- proves effective. Well, him and the Purell.