Just about the time the fur was really flying between Microsoft and the Justice Department in 1999, screenwriter Howard Franklin ("The Man Who Knew Too Little") seized the day and scurried over to MGM with the kind of pitch that integrity-free studio execs love to hear: 25 words or less and based on an earlier, successful movie.
It must have gone something like this: What if we ripped off "The Firm," except instead of having a company full of evil lawyers trying to corrupt the hero, we'll feature a monopolizing Microsoft clone? We could get a low-rent, pretty boy matinee idol to play the college grad geek (he'll have no credibility, but what the hell? he'll bring in the teenage girls!) and he'll stumble on to a giant technology conspiracy masterminded by a very thinly veiled Bill Gates surrogate!
And thus was born "Antitrust," a transparent thriller from the recycle bin, transcribed into a laptop computer and retrofitted with an MP3 soundtrack, MTV editing and a cast of beautiful people where the nerds should be.
Smooth, young, curly-headed Ryan Phillippe ("Way of the Gun," "Cruel Intensions") stars as Milo Hoffman, a Stanford grad coding genius lured away from his best friend's garage-based dot-com startup by NURV, the world's dominant high-tech company run by Gary Winston (Tim Robbins, renting himself out, no doubt in exchange for getting another specialty project green-lighted) -- an egomaniacal CEO willing to do just about anything to keep his company on top.
Winston needs Milo's brilliance in order to finish an ambitious project -- satellite-based, cross-platform miracle software that will provide an audio-visual linkup between any and all communication devices (cell phones, PCs, palmtops, etc.) -- by the launch date he's been touting to the public.
An advocate of open source code (making software architecture public, not proprietary), Milo sells out for this startling opportunity. But soon he discovers Winston's methods are less than virtuous. In fact, Milo's best friend and ex-partner is killed by Winston's lackeys so NURV can get their hands on code he's written that would help speed up the project.
As Milo wakes up to the trouble he's in, he realizes just about everybody is in on it, including his live-in girlfriend (Claire Forlani -- who deserves so much better than this kind of arm-ornament role) and the Department of Justice guy (Richard Roundtree) who earlier tried to recruit him to help bring NURV down.
Director Peter Howitt ("Sliding Doors") makes little effort to disguise the film's hackneyed story arc, bluntly foreshadowing the girlfriend's treachery and the turnabout-is-fair-play finale in the first five minutes of the movie. He also insults the audience's attention by flashing back frequently to illustrate plot points that are already perfectly obvious.
While most of the machination of the story holds together -- even when Milo has to break into NURV's top-secret nerve center (hidden in the company's day care center) where they secretly surveil hackers worldwide (yeah, right!) -- Howitt drops the ball in the most elementary places.
The scene in which Milo finally exposes his girlfriend is followed immediately by a scene of Milo working on his computer in their house, without any explanation of what transpired between them after the cat was out of the bag. Common sense is almost completely abandoned for the finale, which includes the kind of nonsensical turncoat surprises that effectively negate the picture's preceding 30 minutes.
"Antitrust" isn't the first sloppy, teen-targeted movie about impossibly handsome computer geeks exposing a conspiracy -- way back in 1995 then-nobodies Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller starred in "Hackers" -- and it won't be the last. But at least "Hackers" was energetic and bold (and for me a guilty pleasure). This picture is never even tense because the audience is already 10 steps ahead by the time the opening credits are over.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th January 2001
Box Office USA: $11.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $17.8M
Distributed by: MGM/UA
Production compaines: Industry Entertainment, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Hyde Park Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 24%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 81
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Peter Howitt
Starring: Ryan Phillippe as Milo Hoffman, Rachael Leigh Cook as Lisa Calighan, Tim Robbins as Gary Winston, Claire Forlani as Alice Poulson, Richard Roundtree as Lyle Barton, Tygh Runyan as Larry Banks, Ned Bellamy as Phil Grimes, Tyler Labine as Redmond Schmeichel, Yee Jee Tso as Teddy Chin, Nate Dushku as Brian Bissel, Douglas McFerran as Bob Shrot, Scott Bellis as Randy Sheringham, Zahf Paroo as Desi, Jonathon Young as Stinky, Nathaniel DeVeaux as Lawyer, Rick Worthy as Shrot's Assistant, Ian Robison as Lawyer, David Lovgren as Danny Solskjær, Ed Beechner as Ken Cosgrove, Linda Ko as Gary's Secretary
Also starring: Rachel Leigh Cook
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