- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

A crusading crock, "Antitrust" makes promiscuous and trifling use of a term dear to Washington and Wall Street.

One minor character, played by old Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree, purports to be with the Department of Justice but perpetrates a deception as does every other character in the film.

The principal setting is Portland, Ore., and the professional background is the computer software industry, specifically an ominous outfit called N.U.R.V., shorthand for "Never Underestimate Radical Vision."

To the extent that this ineptly alarmist and pop-polemical stinker of a movie achieves distinction, it's as a thinly veiled smear of Microsoft's Bill Gates.

Tim Robbins, rapidly becoming as expendable to major filmmaking as Alec Baldwin, is cast as the Gates caricature. That is N.U.R.V. founder and tyrant Gary Winston, whose craving to dominate global communications in a digitally convergent near future has gotten out of hand. The Winston we encounter habitually plays dirty while pretending to be a great benefactor. He stoops to theft and murder if necessary to secure the programming needed to realize his greedy and despotic vision.

Ryan Phillippe, still boyish and ingenuous enough to survive a vehicle as dopey as "Antitrust," plays the youthful idealist destined to foil Winston: precocious computer genius Milo Hoffman, who finds himself in a compromised position after accepting a flattering job offer at N.U.R.V.

For Winston to have feet of clay or mere character flaws is not enough. He must be the wretch behind a coldblooded murder of Milo's best friend, a crime documented with amazing candor a surveillance video of the slaying itself in the files of N.U.R.V.

During one of the more prolonged preposterous sequences, Milo spends the better part of a night perusing all the incriminating evidence at a convenient hideaway on company grounds. One nominally threatening security officer remains oblivious. Another takes an eternity to stroll in the direction of Milo's hiding place at a tattletale monitor.

I think one can predict confidently that "Antitrust" will do as much for computer brainiacs as "Hackers" did in 1995. Moreover, "Hackers" can't boast a red-herring sequence as delirious as the one that could help immortalize "Antitrust." We're alerted that Milo (love that name) has an Achilles' heel: a potentially fatal allergy to sesame seeds. An entire panicky interlude is devoted to his suspicion that a trusted intimate could be trying to murder him with a meal of Hunan stir-fry, possibly spiked with a sesame sauce. It's almost worth playing along with the pokey and threadbare plot to savor this shameless false alarm.

Mr. Robbins seems to be stuck in a fanatic rut. Having played a soft-spoken and furtive terrorist in "Arlington Road," he finds it a challenge to embody soft-spoken and furtive megalomania as Winston. Watching him smirk and sleepwalk through these treacherous roles, one finds it difficult to remember that Mr. Robbins once was indispensable to some provocative and/or satisfying movies: "Bull Durham," "Jacob's Ladder," "The Player" and "The Shawshank Redemption."

As a parting gesture of virtue, the people responsible for "Antitrust" pretend to champion open access to all computer codes, on the grounds that "human knowledge belongs to the world." The values of the movie industry are as commercialized as human greed or vanity probably could contrive. The custodians of the industry would not look kindly on the suggestion that every item of popular culture manufactured under their supervision be made available without charge to a vast public.

Such grandstanding might be futile in the case of an "Antitrust," anyway. It's the sort of movie a company ought to pay the audience to sample. How's this for a kicker? Bill Gates buys out the distributor, MGM, to demonstrate his sense of humor.

1 and 1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Antitrust"

RATING: PG-13 (occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Howitt. Written by Howard Franklin. Cinematography by John Bailey. Production design by Catherine Hardwicke. Costume design by Maya Mani. Music by Don Davis.

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

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