Judge David Johnson's viral factor is 6.
A pox on Hollywood action.
This big time barn-burner from China has made its way stateside. There are lots of explosions in The Viral Factor, but is it anything more than an empty-calorie shoot-em-up?
Facts of the Case
Jon (Jay Chou, The Green Hornet) is a top-notch International Security Affairs agent, dispatched to help defuse a volatile situation involving a potentially world-ending smallpox virus. Before he can complete his plan, he's sold out by his partner, forced to watch his fiancée murdered, and laid up with a bullet in the brain. When he comes to, he discovers not only that the virus is still out there—and prepped to be dropped on an unsuspecting populace—but his estranged brother and father have been dragged into the morass. Which, of course, means exploding cars.
Caught a sniff of The Viral Factor when its trailers preceded some DVD releases I reviewed recently, and it perked up my Import Actioner Radar. Few experiences are as enjoyable for this crotchety reviewer as discovering overseas gems that surprise with their kick-assness.
Pretty good pedigree, too. Jay Chou has some action chops, despite being saddled with a terrible Seth Rogen film, and esteemed mayhem director Dante Lam is at the helm. Plus, the budget looks substantial. This one had a real shot to get me grinning.
Alas, it was not to be. While not a bad film, The Viral Factor is empty. It's like gorging on a feast of Coke Zero and Hostess Pudding Pies; there are brief rushes to be had—spurts of entertaining gunplay, vehicles getting pancaked, giant plumes of fire, and pyrotechnics—but when all is said and done you don't feel the least bit satiated.
Really, it's difficult to put my finger on. The film rockets along at a brisk pace, escorted onward by an aggressive score, and every cent is certainly wrung out of the budget when it comes to special effects. But by the time the end credits rolled, I found myself looking back and trying to pick out one memorable sequence. In our post-The Raid: Redemption action world, you better bring something new and visceral to the table and, frankly, The Viral Factor doesn't deliver enough thrills to earn itself separation from the pack.
Chou is okay, but he doesn't get an opportunity to flex his skills; relegated primarily to the role of emoting, confused brother/son/uncle and (when unleashed) pigeon-holed into scenes that simply ask him to run and shout and shoot. Even the big confrontation with the douchebag that put a bullet in his head is a letdown.
On the flip side, if you have a soft spot for family affairs in your blockbusters, The Viral Factor should meet your leads. Lots of time spent fence-mending and parental groveling. I get that this is all to establish some gravitas and give the protagonists something to fight for, but when the payoff is so milquetoast, what's the point?
Good DVD though: a crisp standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, two Dolby 5.1 Surround mixes (the original Chinese and an English dub), a 50-minute making-of featurette, and a series of cast and crew interviews.
The Viral Factor is sound, fury, and not much else. Bummer.
Guilty of not being virulent enough.
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