Monday, August 2, 2021

Only now does it occur to me... VIRTUOSITY (1995)

Only now does it occur to me... that VIRTUOSITY (1995) is perhaps Ridley Scott's favorite movie.

What––you don't believe me? That a film directed by Brett Leonard (THE LAWNMOWER MAN, SIEGFRIED AND ROY: THE MAGIC BOX, Billy Idol's "Shock to the System" music video) would be Ridley's fave? I promise I'll convince you. But first, some background.

Penned by underrated genre scribe Eric Bernt (SURVIVING THE GAME, ROMEO IS BLEEDING), it's a post-DEMOLITION MAN/GHOST IN THE MACHINE cyberpunk fable of a murderous A.I.––in this case, a virtual "serial killer" training program (Russell Crowe)––who escapes into the real world to battle his nemesis, a jailed and hardboiled cop (Denzel Washington). I'd say that it draws some tonal inspiration from Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER and BLACK RAIN––for instance, there's a scene where Crowe's A.I. come-to-life encounters an older, bartender-model robot (Kevin Loreque, in a great, butoh-adjacent performance),

 and is made so existentially uncomfortable that he "retires" him, á la BLADE RUNNER:

In general, I must note that this movie is majestically entertaining. Allow me to submit, for your consideration, a scene where Russell Crowe jaunts down the street in a '90s zoot suit while homaging SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and receives his very first high-five––a moment which calls for serious and immediate contemplation.


Or this scene, where Russell Crowe rocks out, in concert, with some theremin-style 1990s musical accoutrement.

The film features John Waters'-own Traci Lords as a cyberpunk nightclub singer, 

and even brings us the mind-boggling occurrence of a Debbie Harry/non-David Byrne Talking Heads song called "No Talking Just Head" which, I guess, attempts to subtly satirize the Talking Heads' existence while mostly sounding like an ersatz Nine Inch Nails banger. This plays over the end credits and just feels like the perfect capper for the madness we've just witnessed.

But I don't want to stray too far from my main point, which is that "VIRTUOSITY is Ridley Scott's favorite movie." Now, I may have amply demonstrated the "whys" and "hows" of VIRTUOSITY becoming someone's favorite movie, but I haven't fully illustrated the Scott connection.

You're probably thinking: Oh, yeah, you're going to remind us that Ridley Scott is a maniac for Russell Crowe and casts him in all of his movies. He even cast Crowe and Denzel Washington in AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007), and reversed their roles, with Crowe as the cop pursuing Washington's criminal. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And you're absolutely right, I think that's a point worth discussing. But I sense you pushing back already

Well, that's not enough to prove your hypothesis, buddy––you're making a serious claim about Sir Ridley Scott's rarefied tastes, and you don't have the receipts!

I hear your skepticism. I hear it loud and clear. But what if I told you that most of the supporting roles also had a latter-day Scott connection? Stephen Spinella ended up in the Scott-produced NUMB3ERS... and Junta Juleil Hall-O-Famer William Forsythe (THE ROCK, EXTREME PREJUDICE)

appeared in the Scott-produced MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE... the great William Fichtner (GO, HEAT, DRIVE ANGRY, THE DARK KNIGHT) 

was also later cast by Scott in BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001). (Oh yeah, and in this screencap, Fichtner appears next to none other than Louise "Nurse Ratched" Fletcher.) Who's to say that he didn't bring these folks into the Scott fold because he was such a VIRTUOSITY fanatic?

I am. These are all working actors, bub––having them pop up in a subsequent Scott project doesn't prove diddly.

Okay, I can accept that. But how about a canister of primordial, life-giving goo which lends Russell Crowe's A.I. a corporeal form:


isn't that exactly like the "concept of Alien life" promulgated by the Engineers in Scott's PROMETHEUS (2012)?

Maybe, but it's not terribly original here, nor in PROMETHEUS. You gotta give me something more substantial.

Alright, here it is: Russell Crowe bursts into an ultimate fighting championship––a modern gladiatorial game, if you will, not unlike Scott's GLADIATOR (2000)––and backflops (that's correct, it's more of a backflop than a backflip) into the ring, and offers not one, but two General Maximus-meets-Vince McMahon"Are you entertained?" gestures to the crowd.

Roll the tape:

Well, that's pretty spot-on, actually, you might be saying. Say, this is all pretty weird. Is it possible that Ridley Scott really does love VIRTUOSITY above all other films?

To which, I say––well, 1995 was a good year. Not "a good year" like Ridley Scott's 2006 Russell Crowe-vehicle wine-country drama "A GOOD YEAR," but a good year nonetheless:

Book 'em, Danno. I says: case closed.


Abraham said...

Re: "a Debbie Harry/non-David Byrne Talking Heads song called No Talking Just Head". After Byrne left the band they (Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz) did one last album in 1996 as The Heads, entitled No talking Just Head. Every song had a guest lead vocalist, the title track was Harry. The LP flopped, so soon there was no Head either.

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for the info, that makes a lot of sense––though feels perhaps like a strange project to pair with the absurd glories of VIRTUOSITY!

jj said...

The Virtuosity soundtrack kicks ass in general.

Sean Gill said...