**½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C-
starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law
screenplay by Scott Z. Burns
directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw Less smug (if only be a few degrees) than Steven Soderbergh's other starfucker balls, Contagion surprises with its consistent serious-mindedness, even as it finally disappoints by contenting itself to be a cautionary tale rather than, in a year of world-busters, an end-of-times tale. Even Fail Safe and the inch of dust settled on it has Hank Fonda levelling NYC--all Contagion does is kill Gwyneth Paltrow ugly, which, in the grand scheme of things, is only what every sentient human being in the United States has contemplated already. (I confess I amused myself during the scene in which Paltrow's afflicted adulteress has her brain scooped out of her head by muttering "Goop, indeed." Sue me.) Still, it earns pith points for making Paltrow, typecast as a woman of privilege and longueurs, the Typhoid Mary of the new millennium, and more points still for being resolutely unafraid to characterize all of Asia as a giant petri dish ready to make a mass grave out of the rest of the world. Essentially, Contagion, as it goes about what it's about with absolute professionalism and class, earns its keep by being right, more or less, about everything it bothers to talk about.