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‘Virtuosity’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 04, 1995

"Virtuosity," the slick new action-thriller starring Denzel Washington, doesn't mess around with subtleties or subplots. Instead, this uninspired movie plunges immediately into the thick of the action as Washington, playing former L.A. detective Parker Barnes, chases a seemingly invincible opponent known as Sid 6.7 through the side streets and back alleys of virtual reality.

Sid, who's played with amoral exuberance by Russell Crowe, isn't your usual psychopathic monster. The creation of a software genius turned Frankenstein, Sid is a synthetic android designed to function as an ideal adversary in a virtual reality training program for cops. First, though, the bugs have to be worked out—which is where Barnes comes in. Because the brass at the department don't want to use real officers during the testing phase, they enlist Barnes, who is currently doing time for murdering the madman who killed his wife and daughter.

Unexpectedly, though, Sid starts to get too big for his britches and is scheduled to be shut down. But before the cops can pull the plug, Sid's creator—who programmed in personality traits from evil meanies through the ages, including Hitler, Charles Manson and the man who killed Barnes's wife and kids—manages to give the virtual bad guy a real-world body.

Once Sid is out of his high-tech bottle, he wants to play. And, naturally, his favorite playmate is Barnes, who is offered a deal commuting the rest of his sentence if he can stop the killer. Barnes agrees, and the movie quickly becomes a game of hide-and-seek as Sid seeks new and more satisfying forms of mass murder.

While all this is going on, Washington keeps his face locked in a perpetual scowl that is supposed to make him look bitter and cynical. But Washington is such a naturally charming actor—so likable—that his tough-guy act is never really convincing. Also, as is often the case in thrillers, the hero here is overshadowed by the villain, who possesses an endearing streak of vanity to add dimension to his evil-doing. The boy can't help it—he's just nuts about himself.

Directed by computer-brat Brett Leonard ("The Lawnmower Man"), "Virtuosity" seems almost completely recycled from other films, particularly "Demolition Man." Even with its cyberspace connection, the story comes across as flat and tired, merely a pretext for the filmmakers' occasionally dazzling but ultimately numbing special effects. The world of "Virtuosity" may be spanking new, but the ideas are yesterday's news.

Virtuosity is rated R.

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