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A Derivative Dazzling 'Matrix'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 1999

  Movie Critic

The Matrix
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss star in "The Matrix." (Warner Bros.)

Andy Wachowski; Larry Wachowski
Keanu Reeves;
Laurence Fishburne;
Carrie-Anne Moss;
Joe Pantoliano
Running Time:
2 hours, 15 minutes
Contains martial arts, many spent shell casings and the standard sci-fi goo and gore
If you believe the Warner Bros. PR mystique about "The Matrix" filmmakers Larry and Andy Wachowski, little is known about this pair of writing and directing brothers other than they are in their early thirties and they made 1996's lesbian-noir "Bound."

I'm only guessing from what I see on the screen, but I'll tell you this much about them: They spent too much time going to the movies as kids, they know a rip-roaring yarn when they see one, and they are not afraid to steal – excuse me, appropriate – the ideas of their betters if it suits their purpose. But what a grand and glorious purpose it is, evoking "Alice in Wonderland," "Men in Black," "Blade Runner," the Holy Bible, Greek mythology, TV's old "Kung Fu" series, James Bond, "The Terminator," "High Noon," "Alien" and "Star Wars." Let me see, am I leaving anything out? Oh, yes, there is also an element of "Sleeping Beauty" thrown in, with a kick-boxing princess (k.d. lang look-alike Carrie-Anne Moss) instead of the prince and a sleeping beauty who looks like . . . Keanu Reeves.

There is no Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth or World War II in this movie, thank God.

"The Matrix" is just one big, fat, honking comic book of a sci-fi-martial-arts adventure flick. It goes over the top, comes back around the bottom and then back over the top again. It has stu-freakin'-pendous special effects, hipster sang-froid out the wazoo and a story line that makes only as much sense as it has to.

Fortunately for fuddy-duddies like me, it does make some.

The year is somewhere around 2099, although it looks like the present. That's because "the present" is basically a virtual-reality illusion (the Matrix of the title) downloaded over wires plugged directly into our bodies by evil overlords who harvest human beings like ears of corn off bioelectronic stalks and then raise us as slaves or batteries (or something). You just think you're reading this film review dated April 2, 1999, because you're hard-wired to a 21st-century computer that tells you you are.

Still with me?

Somehow, through the use of a magic red pill (don't laugh, that's the "Wonderland" reference) and some very cool-looking hardware, a charismatic rebel named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) has managed to liberate a ragtag band of guerrillas who fly around town in a hovercraft, toggling back and forth between the real world of the future and the fake Matrix of the present as they battle someone named Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his Blues Brothers-suited henchmen, who I think are really nasty computer applications.

Morpheus's latest recruit is a software company flunky named Thomas Anderson who goes by the hacker handle Neo (Reeves) and who may just be The One (a sort of cyber-Messiah who will lead our heros to Zion and the land of the unplugged).

Okay, that's enough of that.

Reeves and Fishburne make a convincing team of master and student badasses, and Moss more than holds her own for the Riot Grrrl contingent. As the shape-shifting Smith, Weaving calls to mind the sullen cool of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day's" Robert Patrick as the liquid-metal villain T-1000.

Kudos to production designer Owen Paterson and comic-book artist Geof Darrow for their angular techno-grunge world of black leather, sunglasses after dark and tentacled machines. Mucho kudos to Hong Kong fight coordinator Yuen Wo Ping for his wire-stunt expertise that makes the actors fly through the air like a bunch of angry, buff marionettes.

And special kudos to the mysterious Wachowski tag team, who have created a lurid, splashy nightmare for the end of the millennium. As we grit our teeth in preparation for the Y2K computer problem, the most interesting thing about "The Matrix" is the fact that the Wachowskis see technology for exactly what it is – both our curse and our salvation.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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