Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:50 - Released 1/12/01

As computer technology continues to become more and more a part of our everyday lives, we will see more fiction devoted to the so-called Pirates of Silicon Valley. Let's hope, however, that we see something better than AntiTrust, a computer geek thriller directed by Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors), which would be utterly undistinguished if not for the participation of Tim Robbins, the only semi-capable actor present. Unfortunately, in this film Robbins does some of his worst work to date. Ryan Phillippe's best work is about equal to Robbins's worst, and Claire Forlani, while looking great, is understandably conflicted about her very conflicted character.

Early in this film, the characters mention Bill Gates by name; this is a clever tactic by writer Howard Franklin to avoid lawsuits, since Robbins's character, Gary Winston, is so obviously patterned after Gates, right down to the hair style, glasses, and ruthlessly competitive business sense. Gary is the billionaire C.E.O. of "NURV," a software company whose ridiculously contrived acronym stands for "Never Underestimate Radical Vision." Urp. As would be expected, Gary lives like a king (and eats like a pig) in a huge mansion filled with all sorts of cool gizmos like paintings that digitally change to suit the tastes of anyone who enters the room. Like Gates, he is vilified by most working-class computer technicians, constantly fending off charges of "anti-competitive" strategies and being portrayed as Satan on various websites.

Meanwhile, in garages all over the country, young braniacs like Milo Hoffmann (Phillippe) and his friends work hard to unseat the software giant by producing some revolutionary new program or operating system, so that they can be the next ones to be hated by their colleagues. However, when Gary calls Milo on the phone personally and asks him to join his team, Milo finds it difficult to refuse. After all, Gary's company is on the cutting edge of technology, with the best people and the money to fund any kind of clever ideas. And they probably have an unlimited supply of Rubik's cubes up there. So he leaves his fledgling company to join the NURV team, but soon a suspicious murder has him poking around in the NURV complex where he uncovers evidence that Gary might really be Satan. Exactly like Bill Gates. Kidding.

Early in this film, Robbins's impersonation of Gates is cute, but as time goes on he approaches the kind of over-the-top stupidity he displayed in the last twenty minutes of Arlington Road. Phillippe, perhaps intentionally, generates no on-screen chemistry with anyone, including his girlfriend (Forlani), his new NURVy girlfriend (Rachael Leigh Cook, She's All That), or Gary himself. Franklin's script is packed full of ridiculous melodrama and cartooney characterizations, and Howitt's direction seems to revel in it. Milo makes mental leaps that would be inhuman even for a computer genius, and there are scenes where we are watching a computer screen for what seems like an eternity, seeing him uncover ever more damning evidence against Gary, as if Franklin is saying, "Do you get it? He's the bad guy! Do you understand yet?" Moreover, there are laughably non-specific scenes where people look at a screen full of code and say, "isn't that great? Wow, that's some great code!" without explaining to us what's so interesting.

Computers are as much a part of our lives as food and water these days, but the subject doesn't translate well to the silver screen, where people are supposed to actually have personalities. Or maybe it's just Franklin, Howitt, and Phillippe who lack that component.

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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