Virtuosity (1995) — Demolition Man meets the serial killer craze

“Just because I’m carrying around the joy of killing your family inside me doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”

Justin’s rating: Sid 6.8 came with a whole suite of bugs, but that’s because it was outsourced to Microsoft

Justin’s review: I find that a whole lot of people completely forgot that there was this scifi serial killer movie in the ’90s starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. You’d think this wouldn’t be something that would slip the memory of pop culture, but it kind of has. And the whole thing is completely bonkers in the most beautiful way, combining the obsession the world had with serial killer films with the rising trend of futuristic tech and societies.

Set in the far-flung future of, erm, 1999, Virtuosity introduces us to a former cop named Barnes (Washington), who’s now imprisoned because he had the temerity of killing the guy who murdered his wife and kid. Also, he accidentally got a bunch of other people killed, so that’s not great on the ol’ resume. But when a police training program that incorporates the personalities of every serial killer ever documented gets uploaded into an android body, Barnes is given what I call the Demolition Man promise: Get the bad guy, get a pardon.

This ends up being tricky, because Sid 6.7 (Crowe) has a wealth of information on his side, no qualms about being as ruthless as possible, and no fear of pain or death. You have to remember that this movie came out before Crowe graduated to movie stardom with L.A. Confidential and Gladiator, so he wasn’t as big of a draw at the time. Another retroactively bizarre casting choice was Big Bang Theory’s Kelly Cuoco, who plays a little helpless girl here.

I do think that Virtuosity expends most of its interesting (and goofy) ideas in the first half, leaving the movie to run down to the end credits. That probably hurt it more than anything else. The opening scene in the virtual reality simulation was easily the most gripping part, and a re-write of this movie to have most all of the action take place in Sid’s world, rather than the real one, would’ve offered a lot more in the way of plot possibilities.

With the goofy virtual reality simulations and the liberal use of not-always-great ’90s CGI, you can see how films like Virtuosity were pushing the field more and more toward The Matrix. We’re not there yet, but that isn’t to say that this isn’t without its merit. There’s a future prison, which is something I always love to see in films, chunky tech, and the idea of a killer android powered by a serial killer program — who also can regenerate by absorbing glass — gives it a little bit more menace.

However, it’s hard to see Sid 6.8 as anything other than a video game boss who totes out huge guns and kind of terrible quips. He’s certainly not scary, nor sadistic in the way that makes actual serial killers so horrific. I guess they were trying to make him hammy in a Freddy Kreuger kind of way, but it doesn’t work if you’re trying to make him an actual threat.

I’ll forgive that, because I never begrudge myself spending some time with Denzel Washington. He’s such an effortlessly likable and watchable performer, and the extra layer of scifi keeps things more spicy. There’s a little bit of a cautionary tale here about letting A.I. get too far out of control — mad computer scientists and all that — but in the end it’s a clash between an ex-cop fighting for his future and an android who eats glass for breakfast and defecates bad quotes for lunch.

Didja notice?

  • Everyone dressed up alike in the matrix, except for these dopy cop uniforms
  • The sideways emoticon smiley face building
  • Sid has a long tongue
  • Jumping through walls is a lot easier when they’re those Japanese paper walls
  • Future prison is future groovy
  • Hey, it’s White Power Bill. Where’s Tobias?
  • Sid is 50 TB. I guess that’s a lot? Eh.
  • Snakes love being cut in half
  • Androids can be grown in alien pods now, I guess
  • Could’ve done without the naked posing there, Crowe
  • “Hey, we’re going to put you out on the streets to hunt a dangerous killer. But before that, let’s put you through some dangerous brain surgery!”
  • Denzel waits for no search warrant
  • Sid having some fun DJing at a high tech night club
  • One of Sid’s influences is… Hitler?

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