SID 6.7 the Sadistic
Before Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe wowed audiences with the epic "American Gangster" they had in fact worked together back in 1995 on sci-fi thriller "Virtuosity". The reason most people fail to remember "Virtuosity" is because it's not really a great movie, or at least not something you would expect Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe to appear in. In fact it is more akin to a Stallone futuristic action romp and is not unlike "Demolition Man".
Having been committed to prison for murder, Lt. Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington - Crimson Tide) agrees to become a guinea pig testing out a new virtual reality simulation for training police. When one of the virtual creations SID 6.7 (Russell Crowe - The Quick and the Dead) is brought to life by LETAC worker Lindenmeyer (Stephen Spinella), who puts his control module into a synthetic organism, Barnes is offered the chance of redemption and release from prison if he will try and catch him. The trouble is that SID 6.7 has been built using the characteristics of 100's of famous killers including the one who killed Barnes's wife and child making this battle a personal one.
So ignoring all the hi tech virtual reality and synthetic organism stuff for a moment, which in fact it's best to do, and what you are left with is a very unoriginal storyline about revenge and redemption. I mentioned it has a similarity to "Demolition Man" and where we watched Sylvester Stallone as John Spartan unfrozen to catch his nemesis, we now have Denzel Washington as Lt. Parker Barnes released from prison to catch his. There is little more to it than this and the attempt to give it depth by having Barnes's not only trying to get revenge but also redemption for the crimes which put him inside add little to the storyline. Nor does the obvious storyline which sees a young child end up in danger, if you didn't see the significance then you've not watched enough movies.
What this obvious and to be frank weak storyline means is that "Virtuosity" ends up little more than a series of action sequences. From the opening scenes which sees Barnes battling SID 6.7 in virtual reality through to various car chases, gun fights, brawls and more chase scenes it runs through the play book of must have action cliches. Credit where it is due and the action scenes are effective, they have a touch of excitement about them through their snappiness but there isn't anything new, anything really stunning which stays with you long after you've forgotten the rest of the movie.
One thing which does stick with you is all the hi-tech mumbo jumbo, virtual reality and synthetic organism's. "Virtuosity" is another movie which ends up treating the audience like idiots as it spews out dialogue full of quasi technical terms to make it sound intelligent. What this derogatory treatment of the audience does is make it come across as stupid, almost cheesy as it fires off a series of so called technical terms. As for the whole virtual reality side and the ability to put a machine built virtual person into the real world as a synthetic organism is quite entertaining, but it's far too far fetched and futuristic in a movie where nothing else is futuristic.
What is quite surprising is that Denzel Washington appears in the central role of Lt. Parker Barnes because prior to this he had delivered memorable, dramatic performances in the likes of "Philadelphia" and "Malcolm X". Although one of the most talented actors from his generation even Denzel Washington fails to make "Virtuosity" more than just a passable movie as all he ends up doing is chasing a bad guy. There is no real depth to his character and what little there is Washington manages to deliver effectively, such as the emotion of losing his wife and child but it's a slim character which most certainly doesn't challenge Washington in the slightest.
What is less surprising is that Russell Crowe appears in the movie as his really big movies were yet to come. In a strange way I like Crowe's performance as SID 6.7 despite being totally wrong for the movie, which sounds quite daft. But what Crowe does is turn SID 6.7 into an almost comic book villain, with his over the top characteristics, his strange sense of fashion and maniacal laugh. It's the wrong sort of thing for the movie, more akin to the 80s Batman movies but at least it's entertaining and a little comical, especially in the scene where he struts down the street to "Stayin' Alive" in a complete take on John Travolta's famous street walk.
Between Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe they make the most of their poor characters which is not something you can say about the rest of the cast. Kelly Lynch as cop shrink Madison Carter who tags along with Barnes just doesn't know how to play her character and as such fails to make the impact a sidekick needs to, never delivering the animosity which should be there between herself and Barnes. William Forsythe whilst always delivers a great tough guy character is under used and Stephen Spinella as Lindenmeyer is also seriously under used and ends up almost camping it up in his few scenes.
What this all boils down to is that "Virtuosity" is very much a run of the mill, very dumb action, thriller which is more action than thriller. There is a lot which is wrong with it from all the hi-tech mumbo jumbo, confused characters and lack of real depth but the actions sequences work well. The trouble is that nothing about it is memorable not even the performances from Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.