Friday, October 19, 2012

Virtual Stupidity: "Virtuosity" (1995)

Three Oscar winners, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Louise Fletcher, are completely wasted in this high tech shoot-'em-up (spoilers all up in this review).

Washington is a cop convicted of murder and serving time. He becomes a guinea pig in some virtual reality testing involving capturing SID 6.7, a computer combination of over 200 criminals. SID's evil programmer releases SID into the real world, and Washington is released long enough to track him down. He must also drag along Kelly Lynch, who spends most of her screen time trying to keep up with Washington. Washington finds out SID is also programmed with the behavior of the man responsible for Washington's family's demise, making the entire thing "personal." Lynch's daughter is kidnapped by SID, and the finale takes place during a live TV/internet broadcast in a high rise building.

Louise Fletcher is not given anything to do as an executive with the company that created SID. SID, played by Crowe, has the right physical look, but the screenwriter unwisely gave him a bunch of unfunny one liners to utter during all the mayhem. A mass killer has not made this many stupid comments since the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" series. Washington, trying to corner the market on serial killer trackers (see also "Fallen" and "The Bone Collector"), is merely okay as the killing cop Parker Barnes. He tries to turn this into more than an action film, but his character is just not there.

Brett Leonard, of "The Lawnmower Man" and the bad "Hideaway," finally finds another movie to use his trademark computer special effects in. The effects are okay, but are constantly undermined and drowned out by all the bloodshed. The screenwriter makes bad plot decisions just so he can move his story along, not because they make sense. SID's programmer releases SID because he is mad. SID can regenerate himself with glass, SID is not really drawn to any of the other real life killers he has been programmed with, just the one Washington has flashbacks about. I thought SID would be like a superhuman serial killer, leaving other real life killers' clues in his path, but we get a passing Charles Manson mention, and that is it.

There is more broken glass in this film than "Another 48 HRS", the previous broken glass champion. Some fun almost comes in the climax, as Washington pursues SID, and in turn is pursued by the cops for a crime SID framed him for. The film is also ten minutes too long, as we must sit through the rescue of Lynch's daughter, which feels tacked on to the end.

Yes, the computer effects are pretty good. Crowe, not my favorite actor, is as good as he can be considering the script. Once again, Leonard just does not build any momentum in his direction. His camera is everywhere, but he wastes his talents on a screenplay that lumbers toward inevitability in every scene.

In the climax, as SID takes over a TV broadcast to kill on the air, we see the viewership increase. There is nothing worse than a medium telling me how awful another medium is. I do not need a violent film to tell me there is too much violence on TV and the internet. That would be like a porn actress telling me women are used as sexual objects in strip clubs.

Take away all the bells and whistles (and carnage and explosions), and you have a really average film dressed up with a good cast. I cannot recommend "Virtuosity." (* *) out of five stars.