Could the Margolin Lab really have anticipated that its progressive “Take Your Simpleton Brother to Work Day” would go so very wrong? Who would have ever guessed that leaving the moronic Jeff alone in the Director’s office would result in Jeff smuggling a plague-ridden mouse to accompany him on his and his brother’s camping trip? Sure the Lab director was also his dad and his brother who brought him knew of his unhealthy obsession with small rodents. But other than those two, no one could have possibly had any idea!
Proving that Jeff’s slow-wittedness was very likely genetic, his father, the Nobel Prize winning (but not for Best Lab Director) Dr. Margolin seems bent on making The Missing Are
Deadly into some sort of safety training film shown at conferences for research labs. Leaving your key to the drawer where your key card is located out on your desk so that anyone can find out, leaving your office open so that anyone can go in, and not having any idea that Leonard Nimoy is in one of the labs infecting herds of mice with the dreaded Mombasa Fever virus feels like a great way to illustrate what would otherwise be an elementary and very dull PowerPoint presentation in lab security that people have to sit through every year to maintain their accreditation.
To Dr. Margolin’s credit, he does what any good manager does when confronted by a crisis that could make him look bad – blame underlings! If Spock hadn’t been playing by his own rules and been messing with Mombasa Fever like he was directed to stop doing a month ago, the boy would have never started this damn pandemic! Unfortunately for Margolin, Spock rightfully points out that even if he hadn’t been doing it, Margolin’s crazy kid would have just stolen a mouse with some other horrible disease from a different project being worked in the lab!
Margolin’s pathological need to avoid being held completely responsible for the incident is so overwhelming that even at the end of the movie when his other son is infected and the boy says it’s all his fault, Margolin comforts him by saying they’ve all made mistakes! Sure, if the mistakes everyone else made is relying on you to actually manage your personal and professional life so that the world doesn’t accidentally find itself living out The Stand!
Jeff is particularly agitated this weekend. His father is going to be sending him to a special school on Monday which Jeff doesn’t want to go to. His older brother and caregiver Peter isn’t any help, clashing with their father about this, demanding that something be worked out so that Jeff doesn’t have to get sent away.
Considering that Jeff refuses to eat breakfast because he thinks it’s poison, refers to himself as a robot named Gordot and likes to stare at the sun, not only does their father’s position seem sensible, but makes you wonder why whatever doctor is treating Jeff hasn’t issued a commitment order for him. But Peter takes him to the lab and leaves him unattended. Who’s the slow brother again?
Further complicating matters, after the incident at the lab, Peter takes his girlfriend, Jeff and the infected mouse on a camping trip. Peter doesn’t tell his father this and lies to his girlfriend’s mom about where they are going because he doesn’t want his father to bug them. It’s Saturday and instead of spending time with Jeff, he’s at the lab and he wants to send Jeff away. He’s not exactly a helicopter dad, Peter.
The movie then details the expected dual stories of the pursuit of Dr. Margolin’s infected sons and Spock’s efforts to use another virus to cure the Mombasa Fever. Scenes of people in silver hazmat suits worrying about the infection spreading and wringing their hands over the slow progress towards a treatment alternate with scenes of the brothers and girlfriend getting more and more sweaty as their condition worsens.
We are supposed to be concerned whether they are located in time to save them and keep the disease from spreading but resolving it by having Peter find a pay phone to call his dad and set up a place where they can meet the ambulance makes it seem more like a run of the mill medical emergency than anything else.
The ending is never in doubt as Spock finds that his treatment works on the girlfriend’s mother and he is able to make a serum out of that. They believe they got everyone who was exposed and though there was no way to know for sure, the movie didn’t make a big deal out of that.
More troubling for the Margolins (and the world at large) is that Dr. Margolin has a change of heart and decides that he’s going to let Jeff stay home after all! He almost wiped out the west coast with a new disease when he was left alone in an office for five minutes and you think of that maybe the addition of an in home nurse is sufficient to keep him from somehow starting World War III when he inevitability wanders onto a military base some weekend when the nurse calls in sick?
The Missing Are Deadly wants to be a thriller and even taking into account the limitations necessitated by its origins as a TV-movie designed to fill a 90 minute time slot, like a cage full of Spock’s plague rats, it dies a quick death due to the silly premise, the characters who behave so stupidly you have no interest in their fates, the dull and routine medical pursuit of a cure, and the lack of a satisfying climax. The missing may indeed be deadly, but so is not missing this movie.
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