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Venomous (May 29/02)

Poor Treat Williams. The guy is one of the most talented and charismatic actors out there - perfect leading man material - and he seems to be stuck in a neverending cycle of straight-to-video crap. Venomous marks his latest, and while it's not as bad as it could have been, that's really not saying much.

The movie casts Williams as a small town doctor who finds himself in the midst of a rapidly spreading outbreak. As we learn in a pre-titles sequence, a group of genetically enhanced snakes escaped from a top secret government facility over ten years ago. They've been in hiding ever since, but a series of earthquakes have forced them above ground. A single bite from one of these deadly reptiles causes death within a matter of hours. Williams initially attempts to treat the victims traditionally - with antibiotics and such - but quickly discovers it's going to take more than common medicine to cure this virus. Luckily, Williams' estranged wife just happens to work for disease control. He informs her of the situation, and she in turn informs her superior - a shady army type who knows all about these mutated snakes. The remainder of the movie essentially follows the exact same plot as Outbreak, right down to a chase involving helicopters and the infection of Williams' wife (okay, in Outbreak it was the ex-wife that got infected. That's not the same at all!)

Venomous, directed by legendary schlockmeister Fred Olan Ray (under a pseudonym, for some odd reason), feels like one of those cheesy TBS disaster movies. It's even rated PG-13, which in itself is wholly unnecessary since there isn't a bit of gore or even swearing. And the fact that the structure of the movie's been based on Outbreak - a far superior film - doesn't help.

But Williams is as good as usual (far better than the film deserves) and the movie never becomes the exploitative gorefest you'd expect. In fact, aside from a few questionable action sequences (usually involving army helicopters), the film remains surprisingly plausible all the way through. If you can accept that idea that the government would sanction the creation of mutant snakes to combat Saddam Hussein, the rest of the movie will be easier to swallow than a glass of Ovaltine.

Venomous marks the latest nail in the coffin that is Treat Williams' career. Somebody get this guy a part in an actual movie, and fast!

out of

© David Nusair