Matrix Movie Review

About half way through "The Matrix," the ostensibly intellectualand certainly expensive virtual reality sci-fi thriller starring KeanuReeves as a genius hacker, the movie turns suddenly simple, as if a WarnerBros. exec showed up on the set and said "I don't get it. You're gonnahave to dumb this down for me."

The writing-directing team of brothers Larry and Andy Wachowskicomplied, and once the movie peels away the mystery of the world in whichit takes place -- which happens about 40 minutes into the story -- it becomeslittle more than wildly over-produced string of action sequences, pausingonly for the obligatory smarmy remarks made between barrages of fancy weaponsfire.

It's a shame, too, because that first 40 minutes is a terrificjigsaw.

Reeves plays Neo, an extremely wired computer programmerwho, as the film opens, is starting to piece together tidbits of informationhe's glommed from here and there that point to something being spectacularlyamiss with reality. All he knows for sure is at the center of it all issomething called the Matrix.

He becomes the target of a band of nefarious, monotonedMen In Black types but is rescued by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), theleader of an underground revolution against the artificial intelligencethat has taken over the world and sustains the human race only as a sourceof energy, keeping us in suspended animation where we dream the world wesee around us.

Pulled out of what he thought was reality, Neo emergesfrom his womb-like pod and is told the Matrix is the virtual reality computerprogram that sustains this mammoth illusion.

Brimming early on with high-concept cerebral abstractionsand heavy-duty emblemism (Neo is a none-too-subtle messiah figure), "TheMatrix" has such a surreal, European flavor it seems at first amazingthat an American studio would throw $60 million at this thing.

But for all its psychological and symbolic posturing, "TheMatrix" is ultimately way, way more style than substance. Before long,almost every frame is saturated with admittedly amazing CGI sequences --from the already trite (thanks to The Gap commercials) freeze-and-pivotcamera gimmick to spectacular slow-motion uber-shootouts between the MiBguys and a now super-human Reeves, who has joined the resistance and learnedthat since the world is merely a video game the laws of physics don't applyto him.

Reeves is well-cast as a super-hacker who says "Whoa!"Fishburne, a great actor who gets stuck playing his trademark cucumber-cool-in-shadesthing, is exactly right for the part of the leader of the small human rebellionwho thinks Neo has been sent to deliver them to freedom.

Carrie-Anne Moss is the ambiguously lesbian, vinyl-clad,kick-boxing betty who, when the film degrades the furthest, actually kissesKeanu back to life after he's been shot. And Joe Pantoliano, the best catch-phrasedelivery guy in the business, is another freedom fighter who gets to say"Buckle your seat belt, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye"when he first unplugs Neo from the Matrix.

An amalgam of "Hackers"and last year's ingenious "Pi,"with ample doses of "TheX-Files," "The Terminator" andlater-day "Star Trek" tossed in, "The Matrix" wasn'ta bad idea, and it looks spectacular. But it's no "DarkCity," the singularly distinctive picturethat was the genesis of this current trend of what-is-reality? themed sci-fithrillers.

(There are two more similarly plotted pictures on the horizon-- "The13th Floor" and DavidCronenberg's "eXistenZ.")

The Wachowski brothers -- who were themselves responsiblefor a recent stroke of pure genius in the form of 1996's stylish mob double-crossflick "Bound" -- ultimately doom the intellectual part of "The Matrix" by layingall their cards on the table early in the second act. Once we know whatthe Matrix is, the suspense is shot and the only thing to do for the next100 minutes is to crank up the effects and pass the ammo.

"The Matrix" is a curiosity, and it's definitelya good ride. It's a handsome picture with extremely slick photography,computer-enhanced stunts and neo-goth atmosphere. The problem is it couldhave been so much more.


Matrix Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, Wednesday, March 31, 1999


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