In the not so distant future (er, past... 1999 A.D.), Virtual Reality has progressed to the point where the Virtual part isn't so clear. With the help of nanotechnology (read: really small) machines, VR simulations can take on a physical form composed of millions of these teeny robots. When a semi-crazed engineer decides to bring his ultimate bad guy VR program to life, he sneaks the chip into some of this robotic glop. Thus, Sid 6.7 is born.
Sid (Russell Crowe) is version number 6.7 of a compilation of 183 personalities: mass murderers, serial killers, and Hitler-types. The ultimate villain, Sid is imbued with the ability to regenerate damage at the touch of glass (silicon), almost superhuman powers, and the cunning and mental imbalance of history's worst killers. And who would have thought...when you let Sid out of the lab, Sid wants to kill. Preferably on national television.
Enter Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington), ex-cop sent up the river for the accidental slaying of two people. Turns out that Barnes is the only one who has a chance of stopping Sid (see also, Demolition Man), so out of the lock-up he comes. Partnered with him is criminologist Madison Carter (Kelly Lynch), who holds her own as the first lead female I've seen in ages who doesn't get romantically entangled with the hero.
Full of wicked, cutting-edge special effects, Virtuosity makes a strong entry into a summer of lifeless films. It takes a while to get rolling, and the early character development is weak, but pretty soon, everyone's caught up in this innovative take on the cat and mouse game. I won't spoil the twists, but the dynamic between Sid and Barnes is quite interesting to watch. Crowe, as Sid, is the real star, playing the megalomaniacal killer with perfect poise and egocentrism, eerily reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell's Alex from A Clockwork Orange. The only complaint I have is that with 183 professional killers inside him, you'd think he'd be a better shot with a pistol.
Virtuosity has its flaws, though. The main problem is that the premise of Reality vs. Fantasy isn't taken as far as it could have been (Total Recall was the last good example of this). The filmmakers have made it very clear which world we're in at all times, mainly because they're really, really busy showing off what their visual effects guys can do (expect an Oscar nomination). Supporting cast is also boring (even Academy Award winner Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is wasted).
Director Brett Leonard, who just came off the dismal Hideaway, has thankfully redeemed himself here. Maybe the best recommendation I can give is that Virtuosity is still on my mind as I replay the intriguing parts, and that's all too rare in Hollywood these days.