Just in time for spring cleaning season comes this motivational tale about deadly germs and the careless people who spread them. Director Armand Mastroianni, working from an ambitious script by Bryce and Jackie Zabel, throws in a few modern-day plot twists into the old school disaster formula for hokey, hypochondria-inducing fun. As in the glorious disaster movies of the 1970s, “Pandemic,” an original for Hallmark Channel, is chock full of stars — some legendary, some B-list, with melodrama a-plenty.
Trouble starts with a missing dog, a dead bird and a gnarly surfer dude returning from Australia with the world’s worst souvenir — a deadly virus. Just when you thought it was safe to get on a plane again, Mastroianni makes sure the camera follows the nasty, infectious little buggers as they travel mouth to hand, through the air and onto clothes. Airplane bathrooms — don’t even go there. Turns out the little curtain that separates First Class from the unwashed masses is just for show.
The Germs on a Plane approach is skin-crawlingly effective; the aircraft sets down in Los Angeles with one dead surfer and several sick passengers.
Dr. Kayla Martin (Tiffani Thiessen) has to convince the reluctant mayor to close the beaches — er — quarantine the plane. Mayor Dellasandro (Eric Roberts), in the midst of a power struggle with Gov. Lillian Shaefer (Faye Dunaway), moves cautiously, considering his hopes to take her job in the next election. Complicating matters is a crackerjack reporter following the story and an incarcerated drug kingpin who, along with a particularly annoying Brentwood Realtor, will do anything to escape quarantine.
Pic, which clocks in at three hours, starts off with gusto, but loses momentum and continuity by the second half. The Zabels’ script is highly character-driven, mimicking the ensemble storylines that made films like “Crash” so engrossing. For the most part, the device works, although as the tale goes on, the pathology of the virus mutates, as does the notion of dramatic license.
Throughout the quarantine, FBI agent Troy Whitlock (Vincent Spano) on the scene to keep an eye on his high-profile prisoner, instead hangs with the scientists, peeking in microscopes and hitting on Dr. Martin. Other passenger/patients walk about unaccounted for, taking pictures and spreading conspiracy theories among other things.
Even though Martin astutely points out that, “take a few letters out of Pandemic, and you get panic,” no one strains any acting muscles here. With most American already well-aware of the dangers of Ebola or even the West Nile virus couldn’t Mastroianni elicit a little more emotion from his troupe? When Mayor Dellasandro gets the news that 6,000 have died from the virus, he casually replies “Geez, that seems high.” Ya think?
However, if there’s an award for best acting with eyebrows only, Theissan’s got it nailed. The actress spends the majority of the film in Hazmat gear or with a mask on her face and still manages to look great.
“Pandemic” does win points for not being heavyhanded; for the most part, it’s all in good germy fun — although Gov. Shaefer’s wrap-up speech feels a little too much like an ad for big pharmaceuticals.