There is an unknown virus outbreak in Zaire. An infected monkey from the area is brought to the United States where it starts spreading the sickness. A U.S. army team commanded by Colonel Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and including Lieutenant Colonel Schuler (Kevin Spacey) and Major Salt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) are tasked with finding a cure. There’s also Daniels’ ex-wife Dr Robby Keough (Rene Russo) who works for the Center of Disease Control. In the background General McClintock (Donald Sutherland) and Daniels’ boss General Ford (Morgan Freeman) are trying to cover up the virus because he and General Ford encountered it before in the 1960s and had to take extreme measures to try to eliminate it.
The movie has a good start. For it shows how the virus spreads from the monkey to a human and then from human to human. The later can happen from coughs, via ventilation systems, etc.
Then there are all the inconsistencies in the story. For instance, General Ford walks into a refrigerator vault with a bunch of disease samples in his regular clothes with no protection. Likewise Daniels walks out of his lab with no protective suit on in an infected town, gets in a HUMVEE and drives out of the area even though the virus can be spread through the air.
Then there’s the downright unbelievable. When a town gets infected the U.S. army cordons it off. This of course causes resentment, people try to escape, and a helicopter gunship shoots up a truck and kills everyone inside. This was a poor attempt to create tension because it basically has the army making everything worse. Then they start taking out the people who are feeling sick, but because the virus is airborne that means everyone in their family should be taken away as well, but they’re not. Finally, Lt. Col. Schuler rips his suit while in the lab and then covers it up even though he might be infected and then talks to other people and might be infecting them. This is what an expert on infectious diseases does, just spread a sickness around to his friends and colleagues.
Basically, what starts off as a good idea gets ruined by some really bad writing.