Cyber-psycho 'Virtuosity' puts 'bad' in new dimension

Whatever reason Denzel Washington may have had for deigning to grace a melodrama as scummy as Virtuosity (*1/2 out of four), the actor has wound up with something that is even worse than 1991's Ricochet in his otherwise creditable filmography.

Working from a premise that might give even Sylvester Stallone chest pains, this excessively violent pursuit pic concerns a tainted cop who's sprung from prison to chase an escaped, computer-generated sadist from 1999 cyberspace - one partially implanted with the psychological makeup of a political terrorist who previously killed Washington's wife and daughter.

Director Brett Leonard dresses this with the same techno-dazzle he used to pump up The Lawnmower Man, but it can't camouflage the overriding ugliness here. The movie seems to get off on putting women and young girls in peril - not only the child of criminal psychologist Kelly Lynch but (in a pour-it-on flashback) Washington's offspring. Russell Crowe plays mass killer ''Sid 6.7,'' but what can he do? By virtue of his being someone's cyberspace invention, he has less than a full dimension.

Someone should tell Hollywood that the mass-killer genre is dead and that its virtual reality counterpart is already wheezing. The Fugitive's 1993 success notwithstanding, the axiom still holds: Steer clear of superstar vehicles that studios choose to release in the August dumping ground. (R: violence, profanity)

By Mike Clark, USA TODAY

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