Rated R - Running time: 2:16 - Released 3/31/99

It's 200 years in the future. Man has been overpowered by the smart computers he has built, and the world is now run by machines, with humans struggling to regain control. The entire life we live is a computer program, a virtual reality game that shows us what we want to see, fooling us into thinking we're still in control. All this advanced technology, and we still can't think of a better way to settle our problems than with guns and fistfights.

This is basically the idea of The Matrix, an ultra-computerized sci-fi film by Andy and Larry Wachowski that has an excellent concept but squanders it by falling back on the same old tired action movie conventions. The Wachowski brothers (Assassins, Bound) have given us an hour's worth of excellent cinema, filled with fascinating ideas and effects reminiscent of Alien or Terry Gilliam's incredible 12 Monkeys. But then they welch on their promise of an intelligent science fiction thriller by filling up the movie's second half with the same bullet-whizzing we see every day (with a few interesting visuals thrown in to keep us awake). What's more, Keanu Reeves disappoints once again with a flat performance in the leading role. Luckily, we have an excellent supporting performance by Laurence Fishburne, and a few other gems in the rubble.

We start with a woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who seems to be on the run from a gang of Men In Black-types led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Luckily, she can leap tall buildings in a single bound, run around on the walls, and so on. So she gets away, but not before contacting a computer hacker named Neo (Reeves) by sending him a cryptic message on his monitor. Following her directions, Neo meets up with Morpheus (Fishburne), who is in charge of a ragtag team of humans from the late 22nd century.

After an extremely rude series of awakenings, Morpheus tells Neo about all the "us against computers" deal. The whole 20th-c. life that Neo had grown accustomed to is fake; it's really almost 2200 a.d., and the few remaining "real" humans are in a life-and-death struggle with the cyborgs. And why did Morpheus seek out Neo and bring him up to speed? Because Neo is The One; he's the messiah. He's going to save us all.

Better put your heads between your legs, folks.

The imagery in the first hour of The Matrix is astounding. References to Alice in Wonderland are combined with industrial futureshock and spectacular matte paintings (or their computerized counterparts). The exposition is solid, and there is a Kung Fu sequence between Morpheus and Neo, a sort of Luke/Yoda thing, that will definitely impress. Fishburne's cool detatchment and precise elocution gives him an aura of mystery, and another excellent (but short) performance is given by Gloria Foster as "The Oracle," a sort of all-knowing, all-seeing grandmother who explains Neo's destiny to him while whipping up a batch of her dynamite oatmeal cookies.

But soon it all degenerates into conventional armed combat, including an interminable scene in a train station lobby, where everything and everybody gets blown to smithereens. Never mind — I'll just go on living in my little deluded paradise. As long as the steak is juicy and the beer is cold, I don't mind if it's all make-believe. ***½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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