Directed by Brett Leonard
Lt. Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) is serving 17 years in prison for killing a man that killed his family. While in prison he is participating in the development of a training program complete with a maniacal opponent for the police. Sid (Sadistic, Intelligent, Dangerous) 6.7 is that maniacal opponent.
SID personality is an amalgamation of multiple killers and other psychotics. I’m not sure how a computer program that’s an amalgamation of multiple mass murderers trains your average police officer to deal with street criminals. One of the personalities used in the creation of SID is a political terrorist named Matthew Grimes. This was the same person that had captured Barnes’ family and whose death landed Barnes in prison. This also helps to explain the rivalry in the context of the plot between Barnes and SID. During a training session SID is able to kill a tester and because of this the program is going to be terminated. SID’s programmer manages to transfer him into a nanomachine body that’s being produced as part of a separate program. Barnes having defeated SID 6.7 in VR is tasked with tracking him down and stopping him.
They did a pretty good job of emulating the look of the computer games of the time. When Barnes and SID first meet up in virtual reality program, the people in the street are all dressed the same and look similar. The lack of individuality of the assorted NPC of the time is well emulated here. If you were or are into games of that era you will get a chuckle out of it.
SID kills casually and relentlessly throughout the film. Russell Crowe is great as SID. He plays crazy very well here. SID is remorseless and gets a rush from murder. The bigger the audience the more he likes it. And that’s what you need in a movie like this. The villain has to be over the top evil. Crowe was a complete unknown at the time and went all in here. Fun fact: this movie was the first time Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington performed together in a movie. They would next be paired twelve years later in American Gangster.
The movie is set in the near future (for the mid-90s) but other than the cool looking virtual reality simulator it’s kind of hard to tell. With all the older model cars floating around in the background and at times in the foreground it gets hard to really tell. Even when I first saw it back in the day that irked me. At the minimum they should’ve kept it to newer model vehicles. They could have made up for this by vaguely implying a year or mentioning a few future events like RoboCop did.
The story itself is a little rough. It’s a good concept that has been done in one form or another before and since. It felt like the script needed a little bit more work before it actually was filmed. Or that the director should have avoided making changes on the fly during production.
The programmer for example. While yes he was trying to save his project, how he came to the decision he came to needed to be better explained. His program is about to be shut down so he must release the most dangerous killer created into the real world. How does that track? Then again in a movie like this logic is not necessary. You’re not supposed to think too hard here. You’re just supposed to follow the action and get a rush. And you do in this movie.
Another issue is the character of Chief William “Billy” Cochran (William Forsythe). He is Barnes’s police friend who used his connections to get Barnes into the testing program. He is a bit of a parody of every police captain in every action film. He’s all volume and bluster. In one scene it comes to light that the tracker in Barnes can release a lethal toxin. After escaping courtesy of SID, the powers that be decide to activate the device. Just as they are about to execute a man with zero court proceedings on their part, Chief Cochran bursts into the room and shoots up the computer console and flings a chair into the screen. He even gets in one last cliché by saying “Is this seat taken?” just before he tosses it. That was bad writing there.
Forsythe delivers it well but scenes like that get written on the spot with nobody around to tell the writer to take a step back. It was just a lazy way to get from Point A to Point B. Or it was a half-hearted attempt to give an actor something more to do. I’m not sure which. Having said all that, I still liked the movie. This is a fun and mindless mid-90s gem. The movie isn’t bad. It’s not a great film and it’s not meant to be. In the end it knows what it is and what it is is a mindless action romp. It’s a fun movie with some great sequences and a great idea that probably could’ve used a little more polish. It’s great to see two actors whose stars would only continue to rise paired together on screen. You’ll enjoy this movie so long as you leave your brain at the door and don’t go in expecting anything complex.