Virtuosity, starring Denzel Washington, is streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+.
Denzel Washington has frequently been named one of the greatest actors of his generation, with a number of timeless hits in his filmography which have cemented his legacy for years to come. Of course, with dozens of screen acting credits in his catalog, there are bound to be a few strange films that stand out from the pack. As the GenreVision Podcast points out, 1995’s Virtuosity fits this bill, as an off-the-wall sci-fi flick that can be streamed now on both Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+.
With IMDb credits dating back to 1977, Denzel Washington had already appeared in leading roles in more than a dozen feature films when Virtuosity hit theaters. Of course, the film pre-dates landmark Washington appearances such as Training Day, Man on Fire, and The Book of Eli, meaning many members of the general public had not yet become acquainted with the Academy Award winner.
Of course, Washington had already starred in films such as Philadelphia and Malcom X at the time, showing that his star was on the rise, making Virtuosity a film that many general audiences had on their radar.
The absurd film premiered in the Summer of 1995 and features campy performances from Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Stephen Spinella, and even a pre-The Big Bang Theory Kaley Cuoco.
Distributed as a dual effort between Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Studios, Virtuosity barely made back its budget of $30 million after taking in $37 million worldwide. Though the film received a number of mixed or negative reviews from audiences at large, legendary movie critic Roger Ebert was among the most vocal supporters of the film’s messages, performances, and creativity.
Denzel Washington stars in Virtuosity as a former police officer who faces life in prison for enacting a violent vengeance upon the man who murdered his family. After spending some time in jail, Washington’s character is approached by former colleagues who inquire about his unique skillset in order to test drive a virtual reality program they have developed to train police officers of the future. The program’s goal centers on tracking down and apprehending a violent psychopath known only as SID 6.7, played by Russell Crowe.
SID has been modeled after hundreds of real deranged criminals whose police files have been fed into an elaborate algorithm, making him the craftiest monster known to mankind. When SID somehow escapes the computer simulation and enters into the real world, Denzel Washington is let loose from jail and given the task of capturing or destroying the artificially intelligent madman before he can terrorize the globe.
Though Virtuosity was widely panned by critics for its bleak depiction of the future, it’s hard to watch the film in our modern era of ChatGPT and Dall-E Mini AI technology and not find a bit of terrifying reality within the campy narrative.
With so many tales of predictive programming detailing a dystopian future in which artificial intelligence takes over and harms humanity, it’s surprising that Denzel Washington’s Virtuosity isn’t referenced in pop culture more often. With streaming availability on both Paramount+ and Amazon Prime Video, perhaps the film will see something of a resurgence in popularity now that AI has become such an ever-present part of daily modern life.
The film could even be a candidate for a legacy sequel or reboot, as the subject matter feels significantly more prescient today than it did nearly 30 years ago when Virtuosity was released.
Even in the early days of Denzel Washington’s career, the actor was highly respected, as evidenced by behind-the-scenes stories from Virtuosity’s production, which reveal that Washington overhauled much of the film’s dialogue and plot, even entirely removing a romantic subplot that would have been wholly unnecessary to the story. This behind-the-scenes work clearly led to Washington’s future in directing, having now helmed 4 feature films as well as a 2016 episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Since Denzel Washington appeared in Virtuosity, his career obviously blew up into the landmark A-list name we know him as today. With a pair of films in active production, The Equalizer 3, and the upcoming Ridley Scott-helmed Gladiator 2, fans can expect to see Washington storming the box office yet again in the coming years.