Monday, September 23, 2019

"What Plane? And What's Dangerous?" - Flying Virus (2001) - Film #153

The themes of animals attacking man and nature attacking man always make for compelling cinema, so it is time to turn to the recent classic Flying Virus (2001) aka Killer Buzz, a modern killer bee movie/airplane disaster movie with a fantastic cast that includes Gabrielle Anwar, Rutger Hauer, David Naughton, Craig Sheffer, and Duncan Regehr. In addition to the cast, the film features international locales (Brazil, and the airspace above Brazil), adding to its classic status.

Some critics are not "on board" with Flying Virus's many charms. Reviewer klaseriksson79 writes, "This is the worst movie I've seen in a long while. The story wasn't exciting at all, the scenes inside the plane were terribly unrealistic." Reviewer bhsfacebook writes (both cleverly and uncharitably), "Terrible writing, worse acting, and gratuitous explosions make this a perfect swarm of awfulness. This may be the worst film Rutger Hauer ever made. That's saying something." And reviewer illusionbox writes, "It started bad and become only worse and worse....among the worst rubbish I've ever seen."

It is time to put things right and explain the many, many qualities of the modern classic Flying Virus. Please read on...

The film begins efficiently with shots of the Brazilian rain forest and a news report voiceover, as Brazilian tribesmen protest various sources of pollution. “The U.S. and Brazilian governments broke ground on a new program they hope will end this turmoil and bring these two sides together.” The reporter, Gabrielle Anwar, finishes her report and complains about how hot it is.

Building the new project mentioned in the news report, however, is interrupted when the local tribe attacks the construction site with flaming arrows. Several buildings explode and soldiers fly into the air a la The A-Team, while other soldiers appear to spontaneously combust while screaming quite clearly, “Ah! Somebody help us!”

After the battle, Ms. Anwar’s cameraman Raka films the dead natives. One is still alive, and he tells Raka that he is one of “the shadow people” and he is worried about “demons from the sky.” Then the native dies.

The adventure begins as it always does in real life, with Ms. Anwar falling down a hill after being startled by a convoy of all-terrain vehicles in the middle of the night. She stumbles upon a cluster of silver cases in the woods that emit a buzzing noise. Seconds later, one of the ATVs crashes into the cases, possibly releasing whatever is buzzing inside (hint: bees). Ms. Anwar is shot by one of the men in the ATVs, and she is stalked by the spear-carrying natives...and then the bees fly onto her.

An odd scene follows in which we see Ms. Anwar comatose in a hospital bed. A doctor played by David Naughton looks at the bee stings on her collarbone area, then leans over her to give her a kiss on the mouth, saying, “Get well soon, sexy.” To make things even more creepy and awkward, Ms. Anwar’s soon-to-be-ex husband, played by Craig Sheffer, walks into the room while Dr. Naughton is behaving inappropriately. Despite a little awkwardness, everything seems fine between the two men, and Dr. Naughton leaves the room.

Meanwhile, in the jungle, the ATV-riding mercenaries report to their leader, Rutger Hauer, who sits on a rock in the middle of a stream. Referring to the villagers, a mercenary reports, “We have 37 confirmed kills.”

Mr. Hauer, displaying a fine understanding of percentages, replies, “37 out of 37. That’s not bad.”

After Ms. Anwar is released from the hospital, Raka greets her outside by popping the cork on a champagne bottle while wearing a Flash shirt and taping a “Happy Bar Mitzvah” sign to the brick wall across the street.

The two rush back to the jungle while Dr. Naughton, who has obtained one of the cases full of bees (believing them, based on a sliver of evidence, to be magical healing bees), rushes to the airport to ship the bees to the United States (airport personnel, of course, are not suspicious about the buzzing silver case). While Raka drives into the jungle, an ATV chases him and Ms. Anwar, shooting at them and throwing grenades a la The A-Team. Raka asks Ms. Anwar, perhaps reasonably, “Just whose corn flakes did you piss in?”

At the end of the chase, Raka drives through a thatched hut while the ATV confusingly drives off a cliff and falls into a lake.

Searching for the bee cases on foot, Ms. Anwar and Raka encounter footage of a black panther, who pounces when Ms. Anwar quips, “This has not been my week.” Shockingly, the panther is intercepted mid-air by a swarm of bees, which surround the panther and appear to dissolve it.

Dr. Naughton and Mr. Sheffer are coincidentally on the same plane to the United States. Unfortunately, the plane runs into some turbulence, and, perhaps predictably, a surfboard in the cargo compartment bangs into the case full of bees.

Back in the jungle, Ms. Anwar calls her State Department contact, Scotty. “Something very dangerous is on a plane to New York right now.”

“Hold on. Slow down now. What plane? And what’s dangerous?”

“Bees, Scotty. Killer bees.”

The film then takes a major turn. Mr. Sheffer tries to use the plane’s lavatory, but he is beaten to the door by a man best described as the Joker, if he were played by Martin Short.

While waiting outside the lavatory, Mr. Sheffer speaks with a young man named Adam, a stereotypical computer nerd, who asks if he understands women.

Mr. Sheffer responds, “You give me your number. And when I figure women out, I’ll call you.”


“So expect a call in, like, never.”

Inside the lavatory, the man is attacked by bees, who have found the way from the cargo compartment through the sink plumbing and into the lavatory. (Nobody hears the bees because the man has used the lavatory to use his electric razor, whose buzzing is, of course, louder than that of the bees.) The man stumbles outside, bleeding from his eyes. Nobody notices any bees, but they start to attack other passengers—though their attacks are so subtle nobody realizes there are bees on the plane. Eventually, a bee stings Dr. Naughton and he collapses immediately, though he is not yet dead.

Elsewhere in Brazil, mercenary Rutger Hauer’s helicopters attack a city for unspecified reasons.

On the airplane, Craig Sheffer saunters into the cockpit, where the pilot tells him, for unspecified reasons, “You’re in charge out there.”

Mr. Sheffer saves the day by moving all the passengers into first class, where they fit nicely, and hanging blankets over the corridor. Unfortunately for everyone involved, a stewardess gives the co-pilot an open can of Coke that a bee has infiltrated. The plane nosedives (during the ensuing panic, the passengers appear to be back in the economy class cabin, and Dr. Naughton appears unaffected by his earlier bee sting), but the pilot takes control. In any case, the bees have taken over the economy cabin.

In seconds, however, the bees reach first class, crushing a panic. Fortunately, a young woman saves the day with a fire extinguisher, which neutralizes all the bees.

Back in Brazil, Ms. Anwar and Raka try to find the local shadow people, whom they believe has a cure for killer bees. They find the tribe out standing in a waterfall with their spears, and they also find the tribe’s leader, who humbly calls himself Savior, a white man played by Duncan Regehr.

The tribesmen, who all have nicely trimmed hair, and who all appear as if they would prefer to be somewhere else, lead Ms. Anwar and Raka to their village, which is littered with the bodies of poison frogs. Ms. Anwar asks Mr. Regehr for his antidote to the bees (or possibly the virus carried by the bees) to save the people on the airplane, but Mr. Regehr does not have an obligation to “blank people.” “Blank people—blank in color, blank in honor, blank in soul. Blank.”

At this point, Rutger Hauer’s mercenaries attack the shadow people village with grenades a la The A-Team. They imprison Ms. Anwar, Raka, and Mr. Regehr in one of the few huts that wasn’t blown up by a grenade. Then the film reveals one of its biggest twists: Scotty, the U.S. State Department official who was Ms. Anwar’s friend, is behind the mercenaries. His plan is to protect U.S. oil interests by getting rid of Mr. Regehr and the shadow people.

In another clever twist, while Scotty explains the entire sordid plan, Ms. Anwar dials her cell phone so Mr. Sheffer will answer and listen in while he is dealing with the bee invasion on the plane. Scotty explains that genetically modified killer bees are the ideal weapon to clear indigenous peoples out of the Amazon so oil can be extracted and shipped back to the U.S. Scotty asks Mr. Hauer, “What is the status of that plane?”

Mr. Hauer replies, “They’re waiting for your word, sir.”

Scotty’s word: “Good. Shoot it down.”

Ms. Anwar takes out her phone and tells Mr. Sheffer that they must land the plane. At the same time, Mr. Hauer orders his mercenaries to shoot the plane down. This  leads to the thrilling final act, in which Adam the computer hacker attempts to take down the missile fired at the plane while Scotty attempts to kill everyone using bees. Mr. Regehr also explains that the antidote to killer bees is poison frog venom.

In the end, the bees kill the bad guys, leaving the good guys alone, though Rutger Hauer saves himself by jumping into a lake—only to be attacked by a crocodile.

After the climax, the film continues for 17 minutes as the characters attempt to get the antidote to the plane. Their plan involves Mr. Regehr (conveniently a helicopter pilot in Vietnam) flying a helicopter to the plane. As Mr. Regehr gets the hang of piloting a helicopter again, Mr. Anwar says, “There you go. Just like riding a bike.”

“I hope not.”


“I always crash my bikes.”

The plan also involves Mr. Sheffer volunteering to open the plane door in mid-flight to suck the bees out. The plan goes well, and Mr. Sheffer hangs outside the plane while the bees are sucked out while Ms. Anwar watches through binoculars from the helicopter.


Ironically, after Mr. Sheffer makes it back into the plane, he is required to land the plane as well because the pilot has blood on his hand, presumably from a bee sting. Once the plane crash-lands, Mr. Regehr lands the helicopter and everyone on the plane is given the antidote. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Except, as in so many cases, the killer bees.

While perhaps not as visionary as The Bees (1978), Flying Virus is equally international. Though unfortunately it does not end with the killer bees negotiation with humanity at the United Nations, Flying Virus does have spectacular action sequences that rival those in The A-Team and other Stephen J. Cannell masterworks, including of course the climactic sequence in which Craig Sheffer hangs by bungee cord out of the rear door of an airplane. Flying Virus is an excellent addition to the killer bee subgenre. It also must be said that the title of the film is extremely enticing: After all, the only thing people love more than flying is viruses.

While the script for Flying Virus is obviously of the highest quality, I have one question about the story. When the black panther jumped at Ms. Anwar, why did the bees intercept it and kill it? Clearly, the bees were protecting Ms. Anwar, probably because she had been treated with Mr. Regehr's antidote, but perhaps we will never know why they were so protective of her specifically.

In summary, if you are interested in a hard-hitting action film in which killer bees menace David Naughton and Craig Sheffer while protecting Gabrielle Anwar, and in which a helicopter flies toward an airplane where Craig Sheffer hangs from the rear door, then Flying Virus would be an excellent, excellent choice.