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'Antitrust': Computer Illiteracy

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2001

   


    'AntiTrust' Rachael Leigh Cook and Ryan Phillippe star in "AntiTrust."
(New Line Cinema)
'Antitrust" hungrily downloads the brave new world of Bill Gates, thinking that a movie brimming with topicality is nine-tenths of the draw. Then it reaches for the most formulaic software imaginable, giving us a thriller even trilobites encased in rock would find predictable.

It's too bad we don't have red, glowing DELETE buttons next to those soda cup holders. I could have done the world a favor.

Actually, the brave new world in "Antitrust" is digital convergence, i.e. the linking of all forms of digital communications, from TVs to computers, via one mega-feed. And the man who currently owns the market on this dream is Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), a goofy, bespectacled, boy-genius who wants to build the world's first satellite-delivered global communications system.

Gary's visual resemblance to Bill Gates isn't just close, it's embarrassing. The filmmakers provide an early disclaimer, however. When someone mentions Bill Gates, Gary jokingly replies, "Bill who?"

Right.

Meanwhile, in the audience-targeting part of the story, fledgling computer geniuses Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe) and his pal Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso) are attempting to make digital convergence available to all computer users for free. Gary calls Milo and offers him a ton of money to join his multibillion-dollar company, N.U.R.V. ("Never Underestimate Radical Vision") and help him out with a little global domination project.

Leaving his friend Teddy to challenge N.U.R.V. on his own, Milo starts working at the Winston citadel, a technological beehive buzzing with security guards and Central Casting's idea of high-fiving computer nerds.

It isn't long -- the moment we first see him, actually -- before we assume that Gary Winston, with his sneaky smile, corporate philanthropy and unrelenting embrace of free-market competition, is a bad, bad, bad man. And when a couple of thugs break into Teddy's place, kill him and paint racist epithets on the wall, the hate crime trick isn't fooling anybody -- except Milo.

Milo gets a great big clue about Gary's guilt, however, and immediately starts investigating the office, enlisting the most beautiful women he can find: his artist-girlfriend, Alice (Claire Forlani), and a co-worker, Lisa (Rachael Leigh Cook).

The rest of "Antitrust" follows every staple of the office-based thriller: Milo has to make nice with the boss while checking him out. He breaks past security officers with a false ID card, sneaks into the archives and runs through those deleted files. And every time he logs on, there's a security guy coming down the hallway.

Let's not leave out the duuuh! discovery about Teddy's true assailants, conveniently available on company records, or the treachery-among-your-friends requirement of the Hollywood thriller. Milo, who has a fatal allergy to sesame seeds, had better watch who's preparing his food these days.

Astoundingly, screenwriter Howard Franklin and director Peter ("Sliding Doors") Howitt need two hours to bring this clunker to a close. (By comparison, the infinitely more accomplished "Panic," also opening this week, is done after 88 minutes.) And as for all their macro attention to the universe of digital domination, the filmmakers would have done better listening to the words of their own creation, Gary Winston: Never underestimate radical vision.

ANTITRUST (PG-13, 120 minutes) -- Contains minor sexual situations, obscenity and killer sesame seeds.

 

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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