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Ryan Phillippe and Claire Forlani have a tense moment after a defragging incident.

2001, MGM
All Rights Reserved

"Antitrust" (IMDb listing) will appeal to the following demographics:

  • Open-source software proponents and Linux junkies.

  • Anti-corporate activists who believe capitalism is Satan's plaything.

  • Teenage boys who think Claire Forlani and Rachel Leigh Cook are hot.

  • Teenage girls who think Ryan Phillippe is the cutest thing to grace the screen since Leo.
Those not falling into one of these categories will find "Antitrust" to be an occasionally entertaining techno-thriller that offers a few coy hooks but ultimately flounders.

"Antitrust" wants to be a timely comment on life in the digital age. In reality, the film is the Microsoft antitrust trial as scripted by a clan of coffee-crazed conspiracy theorists. The story follows Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe), a blessed computer programmer with a penchant for doing the impossible, who is lured to work for Nurv, a multi-billion dollar software company guided by monopolistic tycoon — and Bill Gates clone — Gary Winston (Tim Robbins). Winston coddles Hoffman, stroking his God Module by telling his new employee that he's the key component in a radical new satellite-based information system. This new system will revolutionize information transfer by beaming any kind of content to a plethora of devices (porn on your cell phone!). It's a gamble of epic proportions that begins well enough, but soon throws Hoffman into a world of murder, questionable loyalty, and occasional run-ins with psychotic geek hitmen. By the final act, Hoffman would kill for the monotony of a boring antitrust trial. Speaking of antitrust, Winston is under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible monopolistic business practices. The title suggests this is an important element to the film, but it barely figures into the plot and is quickly discarded when the psycho geek hitmen first appear.

"Antitrust" is descended from "The Net," "Hackers," and "Enemy of the State." In these films, heroes use their cunning and computer kung-fu to outsmart the bad guys, ultimately prevailing through a techno loophole and, for good measure, finding a glimmer of good in the "outside" world. A truly great techno-thriller has yet to emerge, which is odd because technology, with its bleeping gadgets and fast-paced information overload, provides a dazzling backdrop for a clever film. "Antitrust" falls prey to the same pitfalls as its brethren: It cops out on the intrigue, hoping to cover its deficiencies with whirling toys and flashing lights.

To its credit, "Antitrust" realistically portrays computers and software. You'll find no zippy animations of unfolding e-mail envelopes. Likewise, the film's computer gurus don't bend the space-time continuum to complete their tasks (downloading files at the speed of light and booting up a computer in three seconds are common occurrences in the movie world). The technology and its issues — including the open-source software movement — are properly translated. Unfortunately, the only people who will appreciate the techno-competence are nitpicky reviewers and geeky computer users (ahem).

The producers got the technology right, but someone forgot about the filmmaking. "Antitrust" is dotted with cringe-worthy dialogue and vacant performances. Scenes of heroism and action have the feel of a Fox TV drama (imagine "90210" with hackers and you'll get the idea). Phillippe, Forlani, and Cook, who could very easily star in a Fox TV drama, compete to create the most vacant expression. The three do a lot of staring, which I assume is meant to elicit drama. When Robert DeNiro stares, it's compelling, when Ryan Phillippe stares, it's a LensCrafters' commercial.

The young stars pale in comparison to the horrific performance turned in by Robbins. Not so long ago, Robbins was one of Hollywood's most gifted actors. In films like "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Player" Robbins exhibited a deftness of skill that few performers ever achieve. But lately, much has been amiss with Robbins' work. His performances in "Arlington Road" and "Mission to Mars" pockmarked his filmography. In "Antitrust" the cinematic acne continues. As Gary Winston, Robbins is Bill Gates on Rapid-Gro. He's a stereotypical, megalomaniacal rich guy who mixes his geeky good humor with a bulging-eyed ruthlessness straight from ancient Rome. It's a one-dimensional performance you'd expect from Kevin Costner, not Tim Robbins.

Robbins' performance isn't the only thing one-dimensional about "Antitrust." With its topical foundation and technological know-how it could have been a strong techno-thriller, but it neglects these assets in favor of visual kicks and an easy story. As it stands, "Antitrust" is a momentary diversion from our own world of whirling toys and flashing lights.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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