eye WEEKLY                                              August 10 1995
Toronto's arts newspaper                      .....free every Thursday
ON SCREEN                                                    ON SCREEN



Starring Denzel Washington, Kelly Lynch and Russell Crowe. Screenplay by Eric Bernt. Directed by Brett Leonard. (AA)



Set some time that's not quite the present and not quite the future -- let's call it next Sunday, A.D. -- an advanced Virtual Reality contraption programmed for maximum mayhem is being used for training enforcement officials. The suspect device is called Sid 6.7 (Russell Crowe), a composite of mass-murderers from Hitler to Manson.

Borrowing from Altered States (or maybe Pinocchio) -- i.e., something internal or inanimate unexpectedly manifests itself as a living being -- Virtuosity puts the machine back into deus ex machina: Sid 6.7 busts out of his cyber-cocoon and gets about wreaking havoc on the real world.

Ex-cop Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) recognizes among the killers in Sid's psychological makeup the terrorist who blew his family to smithereens a few years back.

Australian star Crowe's (The Sum Of Us) Sid is the best thing in Virtuosity: genuinely creepy in his gleeful sadism, he goes a long way toward making the movie watchable. The problem, though, is that we don't particularly care about any of the riotous goings-on since the film has no particular personality or point of view. Despite making feeble stabs at social commentary -- Sid only kills when the TV cameras are rolling -- the anonymous direction of Brett Leonard ensures that any virtuosity on display here is strictly of the technical variety.

Viewing Virtuosity is as bludgeoning an experience as a death-metal concert: it's got a good beat and you can bang your head to it. The multimillion-dollar arsenal of horror-show hardware guarantees that somebody's gonna get their head kicked in tonight (though not before handing over their eight bucks).

Yet amidst the lumpy tech-talk, VR trickery and all manner of morphing and magic, is a shop-worn, eye-for-an-eye revenge plot: new skin for the old ceremony. As in The Net, it's 19th-century dramatics gussied up in 21st-century hardware.

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