Don't Trust It

Antitrust is almost as exciting a title as Trade Commission! or Collusive Oligopolies or Tort: The Movie, though not without its irony, since the film itself is sort of cinematic antimatter. A crude exploitation of Microsoft's current legal imbroglio-which represents an important and fascinating exercise in monopoly litigation-this uninspired little fantasy aims no higher than to pit Ryan Phillippe against an ominous Bill Gates replica played by Tim Robbins. I have seen muskrat fights with more at stake.

Phillippe, with his immobile face and blank eyes, has a future in portraying enbalmed corpses. But Antitrust, imaginatively, casts him as a very much alive computer wizard and Stanford graduate who's lured from his garage-based start-up to the posh Oregon offices of NURV, a cutting-edge technology Bethlehem commandeered by the bespectacled, boyish, weirdly effete Gary Winston (Robbins, who must have lost a bet or something to have committed to this movie). In case Phillippe's character is not instantly identifiable as a nerd, the filmmakers have helpfully named him Milo, which is one step below Pee-Wee and Skip on the ladder of stoic nomenclature. Personally, if I were on the run from a psychotic Bill Gates, I'd rather trust my life to a guy named, say, Butch-or, better still, a girl named Butch-but Milo's girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani) seems only too eager to get NURVous.

Winston, of course, turns out to be a ruthless corporate demogogue-like Stalin with a worse haircut. His evil plan: digital convergence, a doesn't-even-sound-good-in-theory scheme that will link each and every port of global technology. Winston is adept at tapping brilliant young minds who somehow fail to compute his shameless software plagiarism and homicidal sociopathy; and, sure enough, Milo is slow to realize that things are not as they seem at NURV, putting him several steps behind not only Winston but the audience, as well-I wonder if he graduated from Stanford with honors.

Soon, however, Milo's best friend dies, ostensibly because he poses a threat to company security-but really because he's not as cute on-screen. In fact, the guy looks aggressively average, so he is not dispatched by means so dignified as gunshot or poison, but is instead beaten to an average-looking pulp in his office. Milo is very sad about his plain friend's death; we can tell because his already-overripe lower lip swells yet further from his jaw. (It's difficult to emote, see, when your lip is the size of a futon).

Oh, and another bummer: our hero begins to actively distrust his girlfriend, especially after he suspects she has laced his dinner with sesame, to which Milo is violently allergic. Will no one help him? Well, perhaps office hottie Lisa, who as played by She's All That's Rachael Leigh Cook (still not all that) looks positively ceramic. When she and Phillippe brush foreheads, you expect one of them to break. Rachael Leigh is quite funny in these scenes: Watching her project doe-eyed malevolence is not unlike hearing Denise Richards pronounce "subatomic" in The World Is Not Enough. And when Milo finally puts everything together and realizes that, yes, Gary Winston is the Devil, director Peter Howitt gorges the audience on a frenzied montage of recollected clues and scraps of dialogue; you'd think Milo had just calculated cold fusion, or Fermat's Last Theorem, or how to blink.

Howitt last directed Sliding Doors, in which Gwyneth Paltrow's life was bifurcated by a subway portal: in one scenario, she boards the train, the doors slam behind her, and she eventually winds up miserable; and in the other, the doors slam before her and she eventually winds up dead. If Howitt had any sense of humor, he'd have staged a third variation, in which the doors slam on Gwyneth and bifurcate her, but no-which is too bad, really, since AntiTrust could've used a bit of ironic wit behind the camera. This applies especially to Howard Franklin's screenplay, so choked with techno-jargon that I expected subtitles to appear on screen. Franklin was also responsible for Bill Murray's elephant comedy Larger Than Life, so he is obviously the man to write a cerebral cyber-thriller.

With its asthmatic pacing and slack performances-except Robbins', too slavish an imitation of Gates to do much more than offend-Antitrust isn't even a good way to kill time. Brain cells, maybe, but not time.


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