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by: James Berardinelli

There's something excruciating about watching a film like this. As the first movie of a new century, Antitrust arrives before the post-New Year's Day aura of freshness and hope has completely worn off. Then again, it's January, and just about everyone knows that, aside from the Christmas leftovers (which tend to be worth seeing), the only movies to show up in multiplexes are those that stink worse than week-old fish. Antitrust is that kind of motion picture. It reminds one of the virtues of staying home and tidying the attic, vacuuming the carpet, or cleaning the toilet bowl anything to keep the unwary film buff from stumbling into a theater showing something like this, which should have been left out to rot in the cold January sun.

Antitrust follows in the hallowed footsteps of such monuments to ineptitude as The Firm and The Skulls, which have the hero making a pact with a stand-in for the devil. (Ironically, the only recent movie to do something interesting with this idea is one in which the real devil as played by Al Pacino makes an appearance. I'm talking about Devil's Advocate.) ANTITRUST is the "same old same old", where a promising young student is seduced by the lure of power and lucre, but eventually seeks redemption when he learns the price that has to be paid for the good life. Actually, the premise is sound, but the plot takes a wrong turn down a blind alley and the lead character ends up acting like a second-rate Dick Tracy. Or, given his youthful appearance, maybe one of the Hardy Boys. And, of course, there's a Nancy Drew to play sidekick.

Our hero is genius computer programmer Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe), who agrees to take a job with software giant NURV ("Never Underestimate Radical Vision") after being recruited by the founder and CEO, Bill Gates...err, I mean Gary Winston (Tim Robbins). (I'm sure any resemblance between Gates and Winston is entirely coincidental.) This move is encouraged by Milo's pretty girlfriend, Alice (Claire Forlani), but decried by his geek friends, who see him as selling out. Once in Seattle, Milo finds himself in the position of teacher's pet, getting daily visits from Gary as he seeks to develop a key element of the code that will allow SYNAPSE, a global delivery system of audio, video, and text, to be ready by its ambitious start date. Soon, however, Milo suspects that all is not right, and that NURV may be using unorthodox and illegal means to gain some of their software. Aided by an attractive co-worker named Lisa (Rachel Leigh Cook), he sets out to discover the truth.

Antitrust is stupid, soporific, and slow. Director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors) is aware of his film's lack of ability to involve or enervate, so he throws in a few "boo" moments to keep the audience awake. The clunky plot moves along relying on one coincidence after another to keep it from spinning its wheels. The way in which Milo first learns that Gary may not be on the up-and-up is laughably absurd (in fact, I heard more than a few chuckles in the theater during this frankly hilarious, over-the-top sequence). Then there's all the business with sesame seeds, which offers an opportunity to savor one of Antitrust's occasional forays into unintentional humor. Added to this are all the expected red herrings, betrayals, and double-crosses. Shame on anyone who can't see these coming at least 30 minutes in advance. Then, when the film begins exploring issues surrounding electronic surveillance during its second half, its clumsy and unconvincing handling of the subject reminds us how effective Enemy of the State was.

In the lead role, hot young actor Ryan Phillippe shows all the range of a two-by-four. This isn't a surprise Phillippe is his generation's answer to Steven Seagal, at least as far as the talent/exposure quotient goes. With the possible exception of The Way of the Gun, Phillippe h


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