Film Reviews


By • Jan 12th, 2001 •

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MGM / PG-13 / 108 minutes.

Yahoo! It’s Horatio Alger, 100 years later-and here, think Bill Gates and Apple’s Steven Jobs. You know, those grungy kids we used to laugh at; the computer nerds who hacked away in garages, who are laughing all the way to the bank with billions.

Well, a generation has elapsed since, and in the high tech world of “AntiTrust”, advances have gone well beyond the grasp of us illiterates who’ve barely gotten past Microsoft Word. Now, it’s the race to be first with The Next Big Thing: “Synapse-the world’s first satellite-delivered global communications system” that would link all electronic, wireless and hand-held communications devices via one source.

That’s the fervid wish of software mogul Gary Winston (Robbins), CEO of N.U.R.V. (“Never Underestimate Radical Vision”). He’s determined to beat the competition-that is, if he can get it completed within 42 days. To him, it would mean even more riches and power.

Problem: he needs help big time-especially since he realizes that “Any kid working in a garage with a good idea can put us out of business.” So oozing charm and smarm from his designer tee shirt, he hires young computer genius Milo (Phillippe) away from his cruddy garage to make Synapse a reality. (He knew that Milo, working with fellow techie Teddy, were on the verge of a “big breakthrough.”)

No stretch. Gary is his idol. So together with girlfriend Alice, Milo moves to a Silicon Valley Shangri-La, with house, Mercedes, and a high-security high-tech lab.

Gary tells him “This business is binary. You’re either a one or a zero.” (In this case, ‘zero’ turns out to mean “dead.” He shoulda known better.)

In this suspense thriller, it doesn’t take Milo long to figure out something is very rotten in this state-of-the-art environment. The big question: Are his suspicions a reality or paranoia? No stretch here either-considering the injection of murder, mayhem and Machiavellian malevolence coursing through the film’s bloodstream. Or to put it another way, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Once Milo’s suspicions seem to be confirmed, the film boils down to a cat & mouse game, filled with duplicity and cover-ups and surprises on all fronts. No one is who he or she seems to be.

The Good News: The asset of all-around fine acting. Robbins, who reprises his too-good-to-be-true Arlington Road persona, has double-dealing down pat. Phillippe, in a role Matt Damon might have filled a few years earlier, is believable as a thoroughly enchanting egghead-a kind of cute-and-cuddly cerebral guy you’d bring home to mother. And Forlani as his girlfriend, part mother hen/part Mata Hari, acquits herself extremely well, as does the rest of the supporting cast.

Especially noteworthy: the extraordinary production and set designs. Truly imaginative, akin to the startling Oscar-winning visual effects of 1976’s futuristic Logan’s Run-but updated to reflect a possible reality. (For example, Gary’s home is decorated with ever-changing computer-generated wall paintings; and the rest of the architecture-house and company headquarters, are phantasmagoric! The best that money can buy.)

The Bad News: The action, often tension-filled and curiously intriguing (as the lifestyle of the rich and powerful often is), runs a very distant second to “The Parallax View”-possibly the best example of political paranoia ever made on film. Here, plot devices are more akin to the simplistic Arlington Road in that once you realize who’s who, the rest becomes predictable. And tedious.

Then too, too many holes in the script leave too many questions unanswered. Without revealing any plot points, what prompted Milo to seek help of a colleague who’d previously given no inkling of willingness to break with the establishment? And did he or didn’t he get a reaction from his Chinese meal? (These may seem small, but they’re highly significant.)

One last thought: This is the only film where sesame seeds could be a murder weapon. Hitchcock would have loved it. What will they think of next? (Tofu anyone?)

Ryan Phillippe (Milo Hoffman),
Rachael Leigh Cook (Lisa Calighan)
Claire Forlani (Alice Poulson)
Tim Robbins (Gary Winston)
Douglas McFerran (Bob Shrot)
Richard Roundtree (Lyle Barton)
Tygh Runyan (Larry Banks)
Yee Jee Tso (Teddy Chin).

Directed by Peter Howitt.
Screenplay by Howard Franklin;
Photography-John Bailey;
Music-Don Davis;
Editing-Zach Staenberg;
Production Design-Catherine Hardwicke;
Costume Design: Maya Mani

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