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THE F*CKING BLACK SHEEP: Virtuosity (1995)

07.08.2011by: Ryan Doom

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Virtuosity (1995)
Directed by Brett Leonard

ďVirtuosity is a damn entertaining sci-fi flick that has everything a fan boy wants: a flawed hero, a manic villain, parallel worlds, massive gunfire, and plenty of movie bloodshed.Ē

Virtuosity is one of flicks that you vaguely recall watching back in the day, but for some reason specific moments continue to haunt your memory years later without any references or reason. If I remember correctly, I caught this at my mall theater (back in the day before all our local theaters were replaced by the megaplex. Itís a shame there isnít room left for at least a few smaller, dumpy theaters. Thereís something about old school and small that I miss, but I digress.). It was one of those wasted Sunday afternoons involving nachos, Dr. Pepper and a beautiful date. (Ok, the date part was a lie. How the hell did I get into a hard R movie back then? Ah, back in the old days when no one cared what kids saw). Anyway, since that day I really havenít given the picture much thought but for some reason, moments from it do pop up every so often without any prompting. First, this is one of the first virtual reality movies for me. The idea of melding the computer world with the real world was an interesting concept, even if the movie isnít completely successful. Second, this marks the first time I noticed Russell Crowe and started digging Denzel Washington. Itís strange how I remember crap like that.

Anyway, so imagine my surprise when I ran across Virtuosity at my local Redbox last week. Holy cow! Blast from the past and all that. I had to see it, to see if it still held up visually and in terms of entertainment. Luckily, I wasnít disappointed. Virtuosity is a damn entertaining sci-fi flick that has everything a fan boy wants: a flawed hero, a manic villain, parallel worlds, massive gunfire, and plenty of movie bloodshed.

Of all things remembered, Denzel Washington perhaps stands out most. Up until Virtuosity, I had always found the guy a little dull. He seemed a little too preachy, always right in every film and always the same character more or less. I respected and appreciated roles like Malcolm X and Glory (great flicks), but he always felt a little stiff and unlikeable. But then came Virtuosity, which by all accounts is a bomb and a forgettable movie on the resume considering it came after a string of hits that included X, Pelican Brief, Philadelphia, Crimson Tide. Not a bad run. But I thought about it not as a bomb but as his first venture into the sci-fi genre. Virtuosity can only be described as a fun flick, an action movie that has no boundaries and is really, really dark. Denzel doesnít deliver the performance of a lifetime here or anything. He doesnít. He seems to go through the motions at times, maybe a little bored with cardboard thin plot, but the detachment works here. He plays Lt. Parker Barnes, a disgraced cop whoís stuck in prison yet is the best chance anyone has at capturing an escaped killer. Barnes has a right to be detached. His family is dead and his career isnít really blossoming with being in prison and all. Nevertheless, whether Denzel didnít care or not, it works. I liked him as the lone, cold cop. I liked that his performance felt hollow. It made his character seem all the more believable.

My second memory is Russell Crowe, who was still two years away from his career defining role in LA Confidential. This is a hell of a benefit for Virtuosity because Crowe doesnít have the expectations that come with being a star and all. Nope. Instead, Crowe hams it like he never did again as SID 6.7, one goofy ass killer. See, SID 6.7 is the most sadistic killer in the virtual reality, but when he escapes into the real world, hell gets unleashed like never before. Bad for the real world and all, but fun for us sickos who like this type of movie. Crowe really, really stands out as the bad dude here, balancing campy and creepy with wonderful glee. Dude will knock off anyone, yet loves the simple things in life like fame. See, SID has an ego and loves to see himself on camera. He gets off on it and never misses an opportunity. In one of my favorite scenes, he holds a dance club hostage, forcing the employees to tape the occasion. But heís more than that. Heís also a musician and creates a concert using the screams of his victims, forcing them to whimper in harmony to create beautiful music. Itís sick, but it makes his character all the more memorable, which is the goal of every movie bad guy. I never forgot the performance.

Considering this is 1995 and all, anyone watching this for the first time might bitch about the effects. Come on though. You canít. I realize Terminator 2 came out four earlier and still today looks top notch, but not every movie had a T2 budget. Virtuosity tries its damnedest to look slick, but it looks dated mostly, though not too bad. Just like the plot and action here (which mostly is over the top and silly), you just have to roll with it and enjoy it for what it is...a dumb, violent, forgotten film that deserves the attention of your eyeballs once again.

Agree? Disagree? Get the DVD and discover for yourself.




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