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.

                                     Rating:         C-
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.