A runaway train meets a viral outbreak in the overwrought disaster flick The Cassandra Crossing, which has just enough florid acting and gonzo energy to remain lively for all of its 129 absurd minutes. Things get started when terrorists attack the headquarters of the International Health Organization because they’ve learned U.S. officers at the IHO are holding a sample of a deadly plague. Most of the attackers are killed, but one of the terrorists gets exposed to the toxin and escapes, slipping onto a train heading from Geneva to Stockholm. Soon after, the terrorist’s infection spreads to other passengers.
The official tasked with containing the situation, U.S. Army Col. Stephen Mackenzie (Burt Lancaster), reroutes the train to Poland, where it will pass over a decaying bridge known as the Cassandra Crossing. Mackenzie’s civilian counterpart, Dr. Elena Stradner (Ingrid Thulin), realizes the colonel plans to collapse the bridge beneath the train, killing everyone aboard as a means of preventing the plague from reaching any major population centers, so she reaches out to one of the train’s passengers, neurologist Dr. Jonathan Chamberlain (Richard Harris), for help—because, of course, a super-genius scientist happens to be on board. With Stradner’s guidance, Chamberlain tries to quarantine victims so Mackenzie’s scheme can be halted.
Director and co-writer George P. Cosmatos gooses this pulpy storyline with melodramatic subplots involving Chamberlain’s ex-wife (Sophia Loren), a larcenous May-December couple (played by Martin Sheen and Ava Gardner, if you can picture that peculiar combination), and other random characters. (Also populating the grab-bag cast are John Philip Law, Lee Strasberg, O.J. Simpson, and Lionel Stander.) Borrowing a page from Hollywood’s master of disaster, producer Irwin Allen, Cosmatos fills the screen with so much noise that viewers are constantly distracted by changes of scenery and tone. Thus, the movie capriciously flits between, say, torrid domestic squabbles involving a caustic Harris and a haze-filter-shrouded Loren, and grim command-center showdowns involving idealistic Thulin and merciless Lancaster. Interspersed with the dramatic scenes are handsomely mounted shots of the train zooming across the European countryside, and, of course, it all leads to a carnage-filled climax.
The Cassandra Crossing: FUNKY