*/**** Image A+ Sound B+ Extras D
starring Ryan Phillipe, Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani, Tim Robbins
screenplay by Howard Franklin
directed by Peter Howitt
by Walter Chaw A fitfully entertaining throwback to the Pakula paranoia thrillers of the Seventies, Peter Howitt's Antitrust is a cross between the techno-geekery of Wargames, the 'gifted youngster getting a crash course in Machiavellian corruption' of The Firm, the steal-the-air adolescent angst anthem of Pump Up the Volume, and the 'rebel teen-geniuses unite' malarkey of the simply-abominable Hackers. The great shame and irony of Antitrust is that after all the high concept--the creative use of sesame seeds, the Citizen Kane-esque skewering of a media tycoon, the constant reiterations of the hero's intelligence--the film remains a conventional addition to the thriller genre that is slightly better than it should be because of its audacious goofiness, but far worse than it could have been because of its failure to be goofier. Antitrust, in other words, suffers from what I call the Wizard of Oz malady: no heart, no brain, no courage.
Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe) is a computer programming genius recruited out of Stanford by MAD MAGAZINE-style Bill Gates caricature Gary Winston (Tim Robbins), because Milo is the only person who can complete an interface program for Winston's whatzit that links all communications devices in the world to a series of satellites. Seduced by the lure of a big company, complete with big salary, big townhouse, and big car, Hoffman abandons his bohemian hacker friends in Palo Alto and wings his way up the coast to Portland with his smirky artist girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani) in tow. Before long, Hoffman uncovers Winston's unsavoury predilection for murdering rival programmers and, with his embryonic sense of justice inflamed, endeavours to bring his megalomaniacal boss's empire down in the name of the Little Guy.
Beyond being awkward and affected (and acted with the subtlety and grace of a lead balloon), the greatest problem with Antitrust is that there is never any question that anyone in the film who is not Milo or dead is to be trusted. Howitt is such an alarmingly uninspired director that he uses every single tired plot point of the paranoia thriller like a blind man feeling his way across a badly arranged room full of old threadbare furniture. A scene in which Milo's vaguely hilarious food allergy comes into play is curiously never resolved, two of Milo's hacker pals from the old days are so similar in appearance and voice to one another that I was abstractedly surprised to see them on the screen together at the end of the film, the reveal of a secret molestation is abused in an insulting and clumsy way, and a stock blue-collar cop character is introduced as the worst kind of deus ex machina: the late-in-the-game triumph of a heretofore marginalized comic foil (see: Barnard Hughes in The Lost Boys). Antitrust is essentially a series of mystifying leaps made muddier by Howitt's basic misunderstanding of the clues that need to be highlighted, and the ones that do not.
Although energetic in a schlocky-pap kind of way, any miniscule chance that something as essentially stupid and poorly written as Antitrust might have had to succeed as a legitimate cautionary paranoia film is fatally hobbled by the performances of teen heartthrobs Ryan Phillippe, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Claire Forlani. Phillippe is possibly more difficult to watch than Freddie Prinze, Jr., which is essentially a polite way of saying that Phillippe is the worst lead actor working in Hollywood. Mr. Reese Witherspoon is so wooden and unbelievable as a human being, in fact, that he gifts the slack-faced charisma-vortex Rachel Leigh Cook (Josie of Josie and the Pussycats) with the illusion of a pulse while simultaneously giving "Nurse Grimace" Claire Forlani the illusion of talent. Forlani is fast becoming the most unwatchable pre-fabricated ingénue personality since Penelope Cruz, a constantly grimacing, wilting castaway from community theatre Tennessee Williams who consistently and fatally mistakes quivering facial gymnastics for the Stanislavsky method.
Sporting Bill Gates's round glasses and bad haircut, Robbins appears to be the only one having fun demonizing a monolithic organization that the notoriously activist actor no-doubt feels is as insidious as the survivalist domestic terrorists of Arlington Road. It's no coincidence, then, that Robbins has borrowed his performance from Arlington Road in its entirety. In other words, it's a good performance, but I liked it better the first time I saw it with Jeff Bridges, Hope Davis, and Joan Cusack acting in place of the shambling unholy zombie trinity of Phillippe, Cook, and Forlani.
Antitrust exists in an ignoble cinematic twilight zone perched between camp classic and disaster. Unbelievably poorly- acted and scripted, it is further gigged by not only a soundtrack composed of "Dawson's Creek"-esque adult contemporary music (and its accompanying parade of grotesquely soulless actors), but also a premise reliant on the already quaint venture-capital boom of the late '90s. Antitrust, for all of its attempts at being topical and hip, will be vestigial and badly dated in less than five years.
It's telling that Antitrust is considerably improved by watching it in French. The last film with which I noticed this peculiar Gallic phenomena is Martin Brest's interminable Meet Joe Black, leading to the puzzling and hardly complimentary conclusion that Claire Forlani's perplexing career (she played Death's love interest in that one) makes perfect sense when presented en français.
The DVD release of Antitrust is presented as a sparkling, 16x9-enhanced, widescreen anamorphic transfer at 2.35:1. The colors are deep saturations displaying with equal clarity the Vancouver oceanfront and the swirling impressionist paintings that festoon Winston's home. An early aerial shot of Milo driving along a windy road cutting through the verdant green of British Columbia is a showcase for the capabilities of the format. There is no evidence of edge enhancement nor the slightest color bleed, a remarkable achievement considering the breadth of the palette employed. The Dolby 5.1 gets a workout during the mysterious poisoning scene when the Dandy Warhols's "Godless" blares on the soundtrack, and again during Everclear's special feature music video for "When It All Goes Wrong Again."
An audio commentary with director Howitt and editor Zach Staenberg stands as the very worst commentary I've ever had the distinct displeasure of enjoying, and easily the most pointless conversation I've had the misfortune to overhear. Howitt tirelessly narrates the entire film, scene for scene ("and here, again, Milo realizes that he has been duped and is angry") while Staenberg narrates the entire film from a slightly technical standpoint, again scene for scene ("this is where we digitally inserted a house, it looks pretty good"). A complete waste of time, Howitt continues to suck life by lending his stultifyingly bathetic observations to seven deleted scenes ("this is a scene that was deleted that shows Milo being confused about why it is that he has been duped just before becoming angry"), including an alternate opening and ending that are essentially identical to what appears in the film save for the fact that a different opening and ending were added around them. It's a good deal like sticking corn holders in a cob of corn and declaring that the quality and essence of the corn has changed. Sadly, it appears as though the rationale behind most of the deletions is some variant of "it gives too much away"--which I took to mean "it sort of forces my movie to become coherent and because it was different (and because different is wrong) it had to be dealt with swiftly and mercilessly."
A twenty-minute film proudly advertised as "An Exclusive Documentary" is a hastily patched together montage of extended clips from the movie maladroitly edited together with press-junket interviews. If you're at all interested in the film, be warned that the "documentary" gives away every major plot twist (admittedly, they're not that difficult to figure out in the first place) while providing no insight into the film nor the actors (save for the disheartening shock that Cook, Phillippe, and Forlani are actually more insipid in real life). Ironically, if you watch the film first as intended and have any bestial instinct for self-preservation, you won't have the slightest inclination to watch the documentary. A grainy theatrical trailer, audio tracks in French and Spanish, and Everclear's music video round out the disc. Originally published: May 10, 2001.