Virtuosity

on August 04, 1995 by Christine James
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   Russell Crowe relishes every hammy moment in his portrayal of the scenery-chewing Sid 6.7, a computerized composite of dozens of serial killers, his name an acronym for the adjectives that best describe him: Sadistic, Intelligent, Dangerous. Sid was developed as a virtual reality training device for police officers -- a program first tested out on convicts, one of whom happens to be ex-policeman Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington), who lost his badge and was sent to jail when he assassinated the murderer of his wife and daughter. When the acutely intelligent and twisted Sid concocts a way to transplant his mind into an android body, the authorities reluctantly call on Barnes' one-man army, offering him freedom in exchange for Sid's capture. When Barnes discovers his former nemesis is one of Sid's dominant personalities, his impetus turns to obsession.
   "Virtuosity," an amalgam of action and science fiction genres, is also an encyclopedic enmeshing of all their respective cliches. An entire police force can't stop the killer, so they call on the one renegade they despise and fear but respect. The villain murders the protagonist's family, so now it's personal. The egomaniacal killer has the opportunity to slay the protagonist numerous times, but instead toys with him and provides him with riddles and clues. With that track record, don't think the filmmakers could resist the all-time favorite SF revelation: "It's learning and evolving by itself!"
   Director Brett Leonard's previous credits include "The Lawnmower Man" and "Hideaway," making "Virtuosity" a natural thematic progression in his career. Despite the fact that it treads recycled waters, Leonard's film is an enjoyable ride. Washington is believable as an action hero, and Crowe provides gleeful malevolence with style and flair to spare. The opening VR scenes are the most intriguing; far more time should have been spent exploring the computerized universe. Sid's characterization could have been plumbed much more deeply as well. Not only does he have to deal with possessing 183 personalities, all sociopaths, but he must also have strong feelings about existing only partway in reality. Unfortunately, an examination of this criminal mind to the 10th power is foregone in preference of typical action fare with a techno twist.    Starring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and Kelly Lynch. Directed by Brett Leonard. Written by Eric Bernt. Produced by Gary Lucchesi. A Paramount release. SF/Action. Rated R for strong futuristic violence, some brutal beatings and some language. Running time: 105 min.
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