03/27/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Donald Sutherland, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey
Hoffman, as an Army medical researcher, is dispatched by his commanding officer (Freeman) to check out a deadly virus in the rain forests of Zaire. There he and confreres Spacey and Gooding find an entire village decimated by the killer bug. Hoffman, brilliant yet hotheaded, warns his superiors and his ex-wife (Russo), a scientist at the Centers for Disease Control, that the murderous microbe may have already made its way stateside. He's overreacting, they tell him.
Suddenly residents of a small California town come down with flulike symptoms that give way to massive organ failure, which kills them in the same horrifying fashion as the virus victims in Zaire. Hoffman and Russo join forces with Gooding to track down the disease's host, figure out its method of transmission and, they hope, come up with a cure. Along the way, they discover another surprise.
The principals play splendidly off each other, but Outbreak, which sometimes recalls 1970's The Andromeda Strain, often strains for effect. There are flare-ups of B-movie dialogue ("They're going to sit there and watch those innocent people die!") and some foolishly contrived, flag-waving speeches. Sutherland, as a tunnel-visioned Army general, is once again saddled with the role of the stereotypical villain. But the strength of the sharply written and directed Outbreak is its ability to make the audience willingly, eagerly—and breathlessly—suspend disbelief until the credits crawl. (R)