D: Brett Leonard; with Denzel Washington, Kelly Lynch, Russell Crowe, Stephen Spinella, William Forsythe, Louise Fletcher.

Director Leonard returns to the virtual reality setting of his previous film, The Lawnmower Man, with this sophomore effort that asks the burning question: "What would happen if a renegade VR program came to life?" Well, okay, so maybe that's more like a smoldering question instead of an out-and-out conflagration, but Leonard posits it nonetheless. Washington is Parker Barnes, an ex-LAPD detective unjustly incarcerated for a crime he didn't really commit. When a VR composite of almost 200 serial killers by the name of Sid 6.7 (nicely essayed by Crowe, who, to me, will forever be the evil skinhead Hando from Romper Stomper) is suddenly let loose on the world at large via a chain of inexplicable events too convoluted to go into here, Barnes is set free in an effort to track down and eliminate the attention-starved, media-savvy killer. The notion of the downside of VR hasn't really been toyed with that much in the movies of late, but Leonard's film, instead of tackling what could have been a nifty piece of cyber-socio-commentary, fails to deliver the goods, instead coughing up a tired, clich*d bit of cops and robbers tedium that begs, borrows, and steals its narrative from everything from Escape From New York and Terminator 2 to Washington's own Ricochet. Sadly, there's not much to chew on here and what's worse is the fact that even the action sequences - supposedly the saving graces in a film of this sort - are shoddily directed, with sub-par editing and the sort of poorly chosen, intrusive guitars on the soundtrack that are the hallmark of grade-B action films these days. Despite some briefly breathtaking, computer-generated special effects, Virtuosity is 95 minutes of unsubstantial firefights and meandering plot twists. The genuinely talented Washington seems wasted here alongside everything, and nearly everyone, else. Does that make this virtual filmmaking, I wonder?

1.5 stars (M.S.)

Austin Chronicle

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