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The Matrix

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Matrix

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne
Director: Andy Wachowski
Rated: R
RunTime: 136 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Martial Arts, Cult

*Also starring: Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Julian Arahanga, Belinda Mcclory, Marcus Chong, Belinda Mcclory, Larry Wachowski

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

From the looks of the promotional posters that Warner Bros. has scattered around town, you'd get the impression that "The Matrix" is targeted to teens. Perhaps only the recent constituents of the comic book generation will make sense of the plot. There on the billboard are Keanu Reeves, looking his usual wooden self, backed up by the marvelously articulate Laurence Fishburne and the leather-clad Carrie- Anne Moss--whom you'd not mistake for the 1950s Debbie Reynolds. They're wearing shades and leather and they mean business. If you're an adult patron with a consulting contract with some teens, you'll get quite a bit of amusement from the 135-minute movie and should find particular delight in the design and special effects. Like Roger Ebert's favorite of 1998, "Dark City," this one dazzles the eye, overwhelms the ear, and even challenges the intellect, as it strikingly merges the conventions of the Woo-style kung fu, comic book expressionism, computer games, MTV, and some clever storytelling ideas. Like "From Dusk Till Dawn," however, the movie rocks during its first-half exposition and all but goes down the sewer in the formulaic action-adventure, shoot-'em- up culmination that resolves the adventure as though its designers had to emulate a Fourth-of-July fireworks finale.

The picture is directed by Andy and Larry Wachowksi--who ignited the screen with their steamy, stylishly violent lesbian caper "Bound." "The Matrix" is propelled by a fascinating- enough concept--which it fails to develop to an appropriate resolution. A small group of techno-geeks discover that the world as we know it does not exist. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) recruit a software designer/computer hacker, Neo (Keanu Reeves), to splinter a group of so-called Agents who are holding the entire population in slavery--except that we only dimly comprehend that we're vassals. The folks on the planet Earth go about their dull jobs every day as though there were no alternative and take their conventional two-week vacations each year as though no greater pleasures could be had. We don't know what the Agents get out of their domination of the world--a serious flaw not found in the superior "Dark City" (in which the Strangers wanted to study humankind to learn how to adapt). We do know that they serve as the manipulators in a vast computer program that keeps earthlings functioning in a world that exist only virtually.

In short Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and their colleagues must fight against Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), his two partners, with whatever technology they can muster. While Neo reclines in his chair wrapped in a mask to experience the world of 2199, he sees himself struggling against Smith. But he's not watching a movie. Since the body cannot survive without the mind, Neo is no couch potato with a mask but is a man in real danger.

The battles include the best action scenes in the movie: a training session pitting Neo against Morpheus in some amusing kung fu wizardry that would be the envy of Jackie Chan, as Neo learns to run up and down the walls horizontally; and a diverting bit of techno-miracle that sees a computer programmer virtually create an arsenal of weaponry for Neo to use in the final shootout with the forces of darkness.

To underscore the seriousness of this Armageddon, the Wachowski brothers cite a host of mythic references. In one case an Oracle--played as a down-home, cookie-baking Gloria Foster--is brought in to predict the outcome of a battle and to decide whether Neo is the world's messiah. On the whole, you could easily get the impression that if Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" were a movie, this would be its sequel. The people of the world must be brought out of the darkness of false images and into the light of truth and reality.

My choice sci-fi movies are generous with intellectual concepts and relatively bereft of swollen battle scenes. "Fahrenheit 451," my favorite of the genre, comes to mind: a fable that nicked the influence of TV years before "The Truman Show" and "EDtv" were on anyone's mind. Its conclusion eschewed a physically violent struggle between good and evil in which the latter seemed unable to hit the side of a barn with a plethora of firepower. The story closed simply, in a manner that would please Thoreau, as a group of people in a modern Eden commit books to memory. Books. If "The Matrix" allowed the f/x guys to take more breaks and worked the storytellers harder, "The Matrix" would have been transcendent.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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