With the end of the Cold War and the rise of political correctness
in the USA, screenwriters increasingly have had to struggle to find suitable
villains for popcorn movies. Every ethnic, religious and lifestyle group
appears to have a lobby that will picket, protest and/or otherwise
denounce any "negative" onscreen portrayals. So it's no wonder that
scribes are increasingly turning to institutions like the Government or
Big Business to fill the gap.
Writer Howard Franklin has had a checkered career, penning the
modestly entertaining romantic thriller Someone to Watch Over Me and
the adaptation of The Name of the Rose, among other projects. Clearly,
he has an ax to grind with Microsoft and its chairman Bill Gates, because
despite efforts to the contrary, he skewers the billionaire software mogul
via the character of Gary Winston in AntiTrust, his latest produced
screenplay. Although there is a throwaway reference to Gates (undoubtedly
for legal reasons), the character of Winston shares many of the same
traits as Gates, from the corrective eye wear to the untold wealth to
the company that operates in the Pacific Northwest on a "campus".
As portrayed by actor Tim Robbins -- who rather resembles late-night
talk-show host David Letterman down to the small gap between his
front teeth -- Winston is an obsessive charmer who will stop at nothing
to achieve his desired goal: to link the world's communications systems
together via a satellite system called Synapse. In short, he's seeking
world domination via technology. Winston could be a villain from a
1960s James Bond film, except a lot of what's proposed is now feasible.
(Gates might want to consider a lawsuit, but then, that would call
attention to this very forgettable flick that will probably quickly fade
from the multiplexes.)
Every bad guy has to have a hero off of which to play and in
AntiTrust, it's Milo Hoffman (played with baby-faced sincerity by
Ryan Phillippe). Milo is a promising computer programmer recently
graduated from Stanford who plans to launch his own software company
with a college buddy, Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso). That's the plan at least
until Gary Winston enters the picture and essentially makes Milo an
offer he can't refuse by seducing the young man with visions of wealth
and power, as well as a nice job, house and car.
For all his book learning and computer savvy, Milo is rather dense
when it comes to what's happening around him, particularly where it
comes to Winston. Every time that Milo hits a roadblock in his
programming, Winston miraculously drops a CD that contains a
potential solution -- data that one might kill for, you could say.
Eventually Milo catches on and manages to infiltrate the company's
main computer where he learns all sorts of tidbits about his co-workers,
his own girlfriend and himself. He also discovers exactly how determined
Winston is to succeed with his plans for global technological domination.
It's at this point that AntiTrust devolves into a substandard genre
flick. The attempts to build tension out of watching two men keying
data at different locations fail. Although the film pays lip service to the
open source software movement (with a rallying cry of "human knowledge
belongs to the world"), it seems to have wandered in from another (better)\
With the exception of Robbins (who appears to relish playing
the Gatesian antihero), the cast struggles gamely but is overwhelmed
by the lack of imagination on the part of the writer and director. Phillippe
tries hard to play the hero but he's partially undone by his blond good
looks and lightweight screen presence. No one else has much of a
chance to develop a character and the women (Claire Forlani as Milo's
girlfriend and Rachael Leigh Cook as a Goth manque co-worker) are
especially underutilized. When Robbins is on screen, AntiTrust comes
briefly to life but even his presence isn't enough to save this lame thriller.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.