Antitrust Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2001

Antitrust artwork

Anti-Microsoft crusaders, "Antitrust" is your movie! If you think Microsoft has an unfair marketplace advantage that has been shaped by anti-competitive actions, believe their operating systems and software applications are technologically-inferior, believe that CEO Bill Gates is the Devil-incarnate, or if you simply can't stand that animated paper clip that keeps popping up without warning, then you will have a ball with director Peter Howitt's ("Sliding Doors") latest effort, "Antitrust". Though it is little more than a cliché-ridden conspiracy thriller rife with gaping plot holes, the shots it takes at the software behemoth, as well as Tim Robbins' ("Mission to Mars") moustache-twirling portrayal of Bill Gates, salvage this lackluster effort from complete obscurity.

Ryan Phillippe and Tim Robbins

Indicative as to how quickly the 'New Economy' has cooled since "Antitrust" was in production, the story has brilliant computer whizzes Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe of "Cruel Intentions") and Teddy Chin (Yee Jee Tso) about to start their own software company out of a garage, backed by venture capitalists who are lining up to give them seed money. However, Milo is also being courted by the charismatic CEO of multi-billion-dollar software giant NURV (which stands for 'Never Underestimate Radical Vision'), Gary Winston (Robbins), and is offered a lucrative programming position. Apparently, Winston's 'Synapse' project, which will allow limitless transmission of voice and data anywhere in the world through a network of satellites, is behind schedule, and only Milo has the smarts to finish it on time. At the urging of his girlfriend Alice (Claire Forlani of "Mystery Men"), Milo decides to take Winston on his offer, and pretty soon, he's got his own cubicle at Microsoft, I mean, NURV.

However, like the real-life company it mocks, something is rotten within the halls of NURV. With NURV already being investigated by the Department of Justice for alleged activities aimed at limiting competition, Milo soon learns how far Winston is willing to go to protect his market share. Mystified by how his boss is always able to pull a rabbit out of his hat every time the project gets bogged down by a technical issue, Milo realizes the extent of NURV's anti-competitive actions when Teddy is brutally murdered and his homegrown code ends up in Winston's hands.

Claire Forlani and Phillippe

Similar to the circumstances that the protagonists of "The Firm", "The Skulls", and "The Devil's Advocate" found themselves in, Milo must find concrete proof of wrongdoing and alert the authorities. But whom can he trust to help him with such a dangerous task? Is his girlfriend Alice really who she appears to be? What about the comely coworker at NURV (Rachel Leigh Cook of "She's All That") who seems to have taken a liking to him? Or how about the FBI agent (Richard Roundtree of "Shaft") who wants to recruit him in bringing down NURV? Unfortunately, time is running out for Milo, as it seems that Winston, his Steve-Ballmer-lookalike second-in-command (Ned Bellamy of "Charlie's Angels"), and his belligerent head of security (Douglas McFerran of "Sliding Doors") are catching on to Milo's extracurricular activities.

Like this week's other mediocre new release "Double Take", "Antitrust" grows more and more implausible with each passing minute. And I'm not talking about how teen heartthrob Ryan Philippe being able to call himself a 'geek' with a straight face. No, this is the type of 'thriller' where the bad guys' powers of omnipotence allow them to eavesdrop on any computer geek they want anywhere in the world, commit and cover-up murder with impunity, collect information on anybody they want to, while manipulating the police to look the other way. Meanwhile, despite their seemingly supernatural all-knowing and all-seeing abilities, a computer geek is able to slip into buildings unnoticed, and using a few UNIX commands, dig up all sorts of incriminating evidence. And even when it looks like our hero has been caught red-handed by the bad guys, he is miraculously able to make up some excuse to cover-up his snooping. On top of this, "Antitrust" also relies on plenty of coincidences or logical leaps-of-faith to keep the story moving forward, such as how Milo realizes that Winston has law enforcement on the take, or the 'pulse-pounding climax' where Milo and Winston are trying to beat each other in a race to enter IP addresses.

Phillippe and Rachel Leigh Cook

It's unfortunate that the Howard Franklin ("The Man Who Knew Too Little") script descends to this level of implausibility, since using the Microsoft-DOJ antitrust case as the basis for a film is full of dramatic possibilities. One missed opportunity in "Antitrust" was to explore the theme of 'corporations as cults', as in how a persuasive and idealistic company executive can hold sway over so many to act against their own better judgement. For example, the early history of Apple Computer, under the leadership of Steve Jobs, bordered on cult-like behavior. Even exploring the mundane details of the Microsoft-DOJ case, such as how evidence was gathered by the DOJ and how Microsoft tried to spin each new damaging revelation, is rife with compelling drama, as in how the made-for-TV "Pirates of Silicon Valley" was engaging in how it depicted the long-standing rivalry between Microsoft and Apple.

However, there are some merits to "Antitrust", particularly in how it tries very hard to make NURV look like Microsoft, and how much fun it looks like Tim Robbins is having in playing one of the most maligned Fortune 500 CEOs in the world. Robbins' portrayal of Bill Gates, I mean Gary Winston, is an interesting mixture of charismatic visionary and megalomania with a touch of psychosis. Robbins also seems to have studied hours and hours of Gates' public appearances, since he even gets the gestures and mannerisms right. Among the rest of the cast, the only other interesting actor to be found in "Antitrust" would be Claire Forlani, whose performance is heightened by the divided loyalties that her character is faced with. Ryan Phillippe is capable, but dull, as the film's protagonist, as is Rachel Leigh Cook, as his potential partner-in-crime.

Trust me when I tell you that "Antitrust" will appeal only to two distinct groups of moviegoers: those who absolutely can't get enough of Ryan Phillippe, and those who have it in for Microsoft and Bill Gates. Only these two demographic groups will be able to stand the paint-by-numbers script and the incredible leaps of logic necessary to suspend disbelief.

Images courtesy of MGM Pictures. All rights reserved.

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