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'Antitrust': Battling the Evil Geek

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2001

   


    'AntiTrust' Rachael Leigh Cook and Ryan Phillippe star in "AntiTrust."
(New Line Cinema)
'Antitrust" is a risible tale of computer-age paranoia, a cliche-riddled, techno-babbly psycho-thriller aimed at the silicon crowd. Although the movie is tricked up with the latest in cyberware, it sure looks like "1984" from here -- this time with Bill Gates clone Gary Winston (Tim Robbins) in Big Brother guise.

Robbins plays Winston as an infantile megalomaniac who runs his multi-bazillion-dollar digital domain with the delicacy of a fanatical cult leader or maybe an insane self-help guru. He routinely gathers his bright young staff for inane rah-rah sermons, whereupon their eyes glaze over -- not in boredom, as you might imagine, but with adoration.

Kool-Aid, anyone?

When the movie begins, Winston's corporation, N.U.R.V. (Never Underestimate Radical Vision), is attempting to recruit a pair of programming geniuses -- Milo Hoffman (pouty, naifish Ryan Phillippe) and his binary buddy Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso). The two are setting up their own software company -- they're having trouble obtaining financing since they plan to give their programs to "the people" -- when they are approached by the uber-geek himself.

Teddy refuses to work for Winston, whom he sees as evil incarnate. But Milo, encouraged by his girlfriend (Claire Forlani), abandons his principles and allows himself to be seduced by Winston's grand vision: "the first satellite delivery system linking every communications device on the planet." Milo will be developing a crucial component for this convergence.

Though Winston poses as a loving mentor, right down to sharing his precious Pringles, it is obvious to everyone in the theater that the mogul will do anything to maintain his monopolistic empire. The story may turn on computer technology, but director Peter Howitt ("Sliding Doors") prefers to telegraph his intentions. What to make, for example, of the prominent notice that's taken of Milo's deadly allergy to sesame seeds? Or those shots of dead computer programmers on the TV in the background?

Like most techie movies, "Antitrust" pays devoted attention to characters who sit and stare at hieroglyphics on the computer screen. To make matters worse, Milo doesn't even input much. In desperation, Howitt tries to enliven the piece with extreme camera angles, zooming in tight on Milo's face when he finally discovers Winston's deep, dark secret. Then he bombards us with a montage of recycled clues that led up to this climactic moment (in case the audience is dumb enough to still be sitting there).

There's a glimmer of an idea here that must have sounded much better when it was pitched to studio execs: "Suppose Bill Gates really were the Antichrist."

Antitrust (120 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for some violence and swear words.

 

Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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