Monday, August 3, 2015


  Given all the great films I've been watching lately, I feel almost bad that I haven't been reviewing them. As far back as a month or more there was the awesome Big Game, with Samuel L. Jackson, Ex Machina which left me surprisingly indifferent, and then I binged on some new Criterion Blu Ray purchases with the likes of Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Time Bandits, Godzilla, The Sword of Doom, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Blow Out, Brazil, and House. However, here I am, reviewing vastly inferior fare, the movie I saw just tonight- Virtuosity.

  A movie that's not even new to me, this semi-obscure, 90's, sci-fi actioner starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe is actually much more interesting to talk about. For most any of those previous movies, a review on them would be little more than a really long glowing recommendation. I don't have the attention span (surprisingly) to write a veritable thesis paper on the cinematography in Kurosawa's movies, or why Sanjuro is underrated (which come to think of it, I might actually do at some point), those movies have been talked about ad nauseum. If you haven't seen it, here's my piece: see them. Case closed. Now, onto Virtuosity. Why is this movie so much more interesting to talk about, you might ask?

  Well, there's no one line answer to that, but I can start by saying that it fails. I'll have to explain in greater detail but first lemme tell you what it's about. Virtuosity is about a virtual serial killer (Crowe) used in an experimental hi-tech training simulation that's being tested on convicts, but intended to eventually train Police officers. However, this virtual-reality killer manages his escape into the real world where he's eager to get his killing spree underway. Who better to track him down than the one ex-cop/convict (Washington) who almost beat him inside the training simulation?  Sounds cool right? It is. I can't lie, it really is. There's a massive flaw though...

  The problem with Virtuosity is everything it could have been, and isn't. The villain, Sid 6.7, is very clearly a fully functioning artificial intelligence. Yet the revelation of this is brushed aside casually. You have mind blowing technology on display in this movie. Androids can be grown out of silicon particles (?) giving them the ability to regenerate by touching and absorbing glass. Computer programs can achieve sentience and be manually matured in a short time like raising a real person into adulthood on fast forward. All of these concepts serve only to give birth to Sid 6.7, who is little more than a villain in a run of the mill killer vs. cop thriller.

  Despite all it's hi-tech trappings, Virtuosity is less concerned with science fiction and more concerned with shootouts, car chases, and a (rather cool) thumping music score to get your blood pumping. It does all of things with a commendable adequacy, but even that is several notches below the bar set by the potential it has. It is simply unconcerned with exploring those ideas and concepts to their full extent. Sadder still is the wholly interchangeable lead played with a serviceable, albeit phoned in, gusto by Denzel Washington. He does what he's supposed to do, and he does it well, but the part was written in such a way you could've plugged in any fashionable star at the time and it wouldn't have made any difference.

  Will Smith? Sure. John Travolta? Why not? Kurt Russell? Bring it on. Hell, even Keanu Reeves. Would it have made one lick of difference? Nope. I think everyone making the movie realized that nobody was going to pay much attention to the hero, when the entire movie is set up so the villain steals the show. Here is the movie's biggest strength: Russell Crowe as Sid 6.7. Steal the whole damn show he does indeed. He strides through the movie with a psychopathic cool that makes him strangely likable, oddly charismatic, and downright terrifying all at once.

  Whenever Sid 6.7 is on the screen, you don't want his scene to end. Yet inevitably, he is the bad guy and we're supposed to want him to die so we keep cutting back to Denzel's hunt for this guy, which is standard cop-thriller procedural stuff. Sparks fly when the two have to face off, and you forget for a while how much of a stock role Denzel has, and that's when the movie shines. When Sid is unleashed to be a true blue maniac, and Washington's character has to fight him- that's when the movie is just a big barrel of action packed fun- but whenever that's not happening... it's kind of standard.

  You can quickly realize why this movie isn't more popular despite Crowe's fantastic performance. All of it's good elements are just parts of this rather standard cop vs. killer action movie.  If the entire movie was devoted to following Sid around, it might have been interesting on the level of A Clockwork Orange. He often remarks that he had no choice in what he is, he exists because of what we are, as humans. Our desire for violence, whether it's as participants or spectators, he infers, is what created him. Well, he's not wrong, and it's a brilliant point- but again... one that is hardly explored. Why? Because it's time for the climax, silly! People have to fight, and bleed, and get thrown around while a digital countdown ticks away to some explosion that we all know won't happen because the good guys always win.

  That's the kind of movie this is. Just behind it's standard crowd pleasing formula is a host of deeply unsettling ideas that could've elevated this movie to a whole new level if only they had the guts to tap into it. Yet this isn't that kind of movie. It wasn't designed to be thought provoking, or edgy. It was simply made to a standard good vs evil story, so that when audiences left the theater, they wouldn't feel that they had a bad time. No sir, no disappointment here. Everyone is happy when the innocent little girl is rescued, the good guy dramatically saves the day, the the thumping score resumes over the end credits to remind you what a thrill ride the movie was.

  So, as it goes, my recommendation is as followed... Come for Sid 6.7, stay for Sid 6.7. The standard good guy triumphing over bad guy plot is just the harmless and serviceable vehicle for a little matinee mayhem. This is movie that won't offend, or provoke thoughts, but it knows how to entertain. Even if it is on a lowest common denominator level, at least it's full of good actors, acting well. The shots look slick, and the action hits fast and hard, there's plenty of memorable shoot-em-up scenes, namely the fantastic opening among subsequent set pieces. You really won't have a bad time with this movie, but if you're not an uber fan of obscurely weird 90's sci-fi action flicks (i.e. Johnny Mnemonic) you might find it a tad forgettable. That... to me is the real shame. It's not everyday we get villains like Sid 6.7.

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