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Cyber czar meets hacker kid in digital thriller 'Antitrust'

Friday, January 12, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

The wild, wonderful world of the future is not in West Virginia -- well, maybe it's there, too -- but in the Technology of Digital Convergence. I thought that meant what happens to me every year at income-tax time. In fact, it's something even more terrifying: the link-up of all forms of communication including telephone, television and computers into one huge, mega-powerful global satellite "feed."


RATING: PG-13 for profanity and some violence

STARRING: Ryan Phillippe, Tim Robbins, Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani

DIRECTOR: Peter Howitt




That's the goal of corporate behemoths as well as brainy hacker kids with garage businesses in "Antitrust," a deft digital thriller from director Peter Howitt.

Our handsome hero is Milo, played by the fresh-faced Ryan Phillippe, who with his friend Teddy (Yee Jee Tso) is on the verge of coming up with a sophisticated solution to Digital Convergence's downloading problems. Once they nail it down, the two idealistic pals plan to make their discovery "open source" -- free to everyone, on the theory that human knowledge belongs to the world -- instead of copyright it for their own private gain.

That is anathema to the security-obsessed cyber-czardom ruled by computer guru Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), a not-too-well-disguised Bill Gates. His company is NURV ("Never Underestimate Radical Vision"), and we are told that its "power, greed and paranoia know no bounds." I should work for them: No one has ever underestimated my radical vision. Which reminds me that President-select George W. Bush once complained of being "misunderestimated." In any case, the only difference between me and Gary Winston is that my power, greed and paranoia know their bounds.

To Teddy's great disappointment, Milo "sells out," wooed and won by the charismatic Winston and the cyber-bauble perks he has to offer. (His other, less-tempting, offer was $42,500 per year and a Buick from the Justice Department, to keep anti-trust tabs on Winston.) So Milo sets off with girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani of "Meet Joe Black," who looks like a young Barbra Streisand with less of a schnoz) to work on NURV's top-secret "Synapse" project.

"You got a real three-dimensional girlfriend? -- that's rare around here," observes a colleague on his first day at work before introducing him to the beauteous Rachael Leigh Cook ("She's All That"), who has been assigned to help him.

There's something fishy about one of the two gals, but it's up to Milo -- and us -- to figure out which one. He'd better be careful because he has a violent allergy to sesame seeds (of all things) that just might be exploited in the emergency need to kill him.

Phillippe ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") is a wonderfully low-key and believable protagonist, even prettier with dark bags under his eyes from overwork. Robbins -- superb director of "Bob Roberts," "Cradle Will Rock" and "Dead Man Walking," and fab actor in my all-time favorite baseball film, "Bull Durham" -- is perfect here as a human HAL 9000, with his unctuously soothing voice and demeanor.

The slaying of Teddy, evidently by anti-Asian racists, fires Milo from his silo to solve the murder and the "Synapse" mystery. That's when the film and Howitt's direction start to get truly exciting, thanks to Howard Franklin's fine screenplay. Not least of its achievements is to be understandable to CI's (Computer Idiots) like me, whose own synapses haven't yet figured out how to use e-mail let alone intergalactic link-ups.

Log on to "Antitrust" at a celluloid Web site near you.

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