Sunday, October 20, 2013

Virtuosity - 1995

"Virtuosity" - 1995
Dir. by Brett Leonard - 1 hr. 46 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I keep wavering on whether "Virtuosity" is a complete waste of time, or if it's just something okay that I shouldn't get all that worked up about.  I think the reason that the "waste of time" thought keeps running through my head is that it was a decent idea with a decent cast, and yet nothing meaningful comes of it.  But is that a useful way to think about a generic Hollywood movie?  Does "Virtuosity" aspire to be anything more than something that occasionally looks cool and a unchallenging way to pass a couple of hours?  Must everything be art?  Or is it okay just to exist without any additional purpose?

Some software company is using prisoners to test out their virtual reality program (and the virtual characters within).  Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) and John Donovan (Costas Mandylor) are policeman, tracking down a serial killer named SID (Russell Crowe), but something goes wrong, and SID is able to actually kill Donovan.  Parker is sent back to prison, and his whole "troubled past" thing comes out in whole pretty quickly, waiting only for Parker to get into a prison fight with a white supremacist buddy of Donovan's.  And since this was made in the 1990s, the software people are complete sociopaths, and one of them figures out a way to make SID real, and sets him loose on Los Angeles.  At this point, everyone figures that Parker is the only man who has any real experience with SID, so they bust him out of the pokey and give him back his badge, and he and this psychiatrist chick, Dr. Madison Carter (Kelly Lynch) team up to chase SID down.

The main positives here are that Denzel Washington is pretty good at what he does (acting, in case you wondered), and so is Russell Crowe.  I don't remember ever having seen Crowe before "L.A. Confidential," and I'm not sure that his being the main villain made any difference to audiences back then, but even here Crowe is clearly a movie star just waiting to blow up.  There's also quite a bit of gloss to this film, and you might consider the first chunk of "Virtuosity" to be a precursor to "Crank," in blending life and gaming in a feature film.

Unlike a lot of computer movies, the computer-y stuff is pretty much contained to the first act, after which the movie turns into a more conventional pursuit film.  There's a lot of technobabble, and other than SID letting you know that his character is 50 terabytes big, there aren't many of those oh-so-fun "you think 1.44 MB is a lot of storage?!?" moments to be found.  If you're looking for a digital slice of the times, there isn't much in that vein, either.  There is a club scene that offers some fun visuals (if you know what "smart drugs" are, or went to Lollapalooza when it still toured, it's pretty fun).  There's also an early UFC appearance, although I'm not sure the filmmakers really understood how UFC worked, as there were always four men inside the cage, and I'm not sure that UFC has ever fully embraced the idea of tag-team ultimate fighting.  The idea of crossing the barrier between reality and virtual reality is a very 90's idea, although it's not meaningfully explored here, it's just an excuse to let loose a flashy, amoral serial killer.  And, of course, being a mid-90s film, even though it pulled an R-rating, there's nothing in the way of sexuality presented (or even a little bit of playfulness).  The lead actress, Kelly Lynch, plays the entire movie in a boxy gray pantsuit, and even though Traci Lords has a cameo in the club scene, she's covered neck-to-toe (in latex, but wasn't that really the latex-covered era?).

But then, I have to balance the decent performances from the lead actors and decent idea with the fact that there's not really anything about "Virtuosity" that isn't completely stock (TM Lars Ulrich).  The story is pretty straightforward, there's no real chemistry between the male and female leads, and the only butt they show is Russell Crowe's, in a bout of nude tai chi in a computer lab.  The execution is solid (although the swoopy pointless helicopter shot at the very end pissed me off in it's needlessness), but for what?  I've certainly enjoyed dumb films before, as well as ones that weren't very ambitious.  But usually, that's offset by some kind of charm, the kind of charm that "Virtuosity" lacks.  Denzel broods, Crowe struts (to a Bee Gee's song once, through a swap meet, which was pretty awesome), Kelly Lynch doesn't do a lot other than look gray and formless.  I know that theoretically I'm supposed to want to see the bad guy receive justice, but I mostly didn't (and not because I was rooting for SID, but just because I didn't care a lot one way or another).  Being roused to ambivalence is probably not the exact result that the people who made "Virtuosity" was aiming for.

1.5 / 5 - TV (HD)

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