Viking Night: Virtuosity
By Bruce Hall
March 1, 2017
Brett Leonard is responsible for three films that, after today, I will have covered for this column. They happen to be the only three films in his repertoire that deserve any kind of recognition or remembrance. And even that’s up for debate.
For the record, I’m referring to Killer Klowns from Outer Space, which is not so much a “good” movie as it is one that I didn’t know I needed. I don’t know if it’s the first film about an insane clown army gorging itself on human flesh, but it’s definitely the most recent. It’s worth viewing just for the part where one of the Klowns liquefies a guy and then drinks him like a milkshake.
And then there’s The Lawnmower Man, 1992’s mostly bonkers idea of how virtual reality was supposed to work. Anyone who’s seen it knows that its vision of the future was wildly off base, even by Hollywood standards. They also know it as Pierce Brosnan’s second most unfortunate career choice, next to Die Another Day. Then again, if you’ve ever wondered what Jeff Fahey would look like if you shaved everything but his big meaty forearms, I think I have a picture I can recommend.
Now, I do jest a bit here, because I actually am a big fan of both those movies. Killer Klowns from Outer Space truly IS a bad movie, but it’s also about Killer Klowns from Outer Space. All it needed to do was deliver on the title. The Lawnmower Man is what happens when Hollywood becomes enamored with some new form of computer technology and makes no effort to understand it before making a movie about it. Sometimes this works out well despite itself (see WarGames).
Other times, it ends up being a bunch of decent actors struggling to understand what’s happening as they cower in front of green screens and shout perplexing dialog at each other. It becomes a disappointing casserole of struggle, confusion, suffering, and whatever passes for cutting edge CGI at the time. Guess which kind of movie The Lawnmower Man is? Guess who seems to have learned nothing from the experience? So guess which other movie is pretty much like that?
But I said I liked The Lawnmower Man, right? I do, and it’s because Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey were both better than the material around them, thereby making it watchable. Virtuosity just so happens to star future Denzel Washington, who was already a star at the time, and some loudmouth named Russell Crowe. I’m not sure their presence completely saves the movie, but it’s hard to imagine it being watchable without them.
The story, if you haven’t heard it before (you have), goes something like this:
Washington plays Parker Barnes, a disgraced former cop unjustly jailed for murdering the man who killed his stunning wife and adorable child. When we meet him, he’s been furloughed from prison to participate in an experimental program. It seems the LAPD want to use virtual reality to train their officers to deal with violent offenders. There are some concerns about the safety of the procedure, so they’re testing it out on convicts. And why would anyone be concerned about the safety of a virtual reality program, you ask?