Release Date: August 4, 1995
Director: Brett Leonard
Writer: Eric Bernt
Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Kelly Lynch, William Fichtner, Louise Fletcher, William Forsythe
Box Office: $24,047,675
Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
What better way to start of this series than with Denzel Washington himself? 90s Cyberpunk doesn't get much better, or much worse than Brett Leonard's Virtuosity. Okay, it probably gets a lot worse, but not while maintaining such a high level of enjoyability.
The plot of Virtuosity is nonsensical at best, though it is the best kind of nonsensical, revolving around a computer training program for police to track down serial killers that is given corporeal form and set loose on a killing rampage around L.A. Fittingly crude CGI effects involving Russell Crowe's limbs regenerating when he touches glass, silly demonstrations of predicted futuristic technology, and a mess of hokey computer interfaces are just a few of the wonderful things you'll find in this film. And that's not even mentioning the symphony of human screams scene, in which Crowe's Sid 6.7 terrorizes a nightclub and tries to orchestrate screams into music. It's twisted and bizarre, and played with a wink, as pretty much all of Crowe's scenes are.
People might just see a lot of this movie as being so bad that it's good, and they wouldn't be totally wrong; but it's also just a brilliantly strange film, and I always love to see a fully-realized Hollywood production of something that is this bizarre. That said, the one thing that is genuinely great, and the reason Virtuosity deserves to be called "secretly awesome" is Russell Crowe, who turns in what had to have been one of the most enjoyable performances of 1995. It needs to be added to the cannon of the the all-time great over-the-top screen performances. Sid 6.7 is an attention-craving, cocky cyber-bully synthesized from the personalities of two-hundred notorious serial killers, who goes on a creative kill-spree in L.A. And Crowe just feeds off of the ridiculousness of it, playing Sid with a swagger and a gorgeous comically demonic laugh. It's beautiful to watch. As for Denzel... well, he pretty much phones it in. But even a phoned-in Denzel can be entertaining. According to the imdb trivia page, he accepted the role because his son asked him to. But honestly, Crowe more than makes up for it.
In addition to Denzel and Crowe, Virtuosity also boasts a nice supporting cast, which includes Louise Fletcher, William Fichtner, and William Forsythe, who gives the greatest delivery of "Anybody using this chair?" you could ever imagine. Seriously. And Virtuosity ends how all 90s action-thrillers should... with the good guy squaring off against the bad guy in a random, inaccessible-under-normal-circumstances location. In this case, on the rooftop heating combines of a skyscraper which houses the television station in which Sid 6.7 is broadcasting live murders to the world.
Brett Leonard also directed The Lawnmower Man, another 90s techno-thriller and surely a candidate for a future post, as soon as I can track down a copy of the out-of-print DVD. But for now, Virtuosity will definitely suffice.