Antitrust (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Raped by the critics. Not great, but not that bad. (Better, for example, than Ethan Hawke's Hamlet, if that's any encouragement) 

The Robbins recipe (hey, Robbins is actually in this one): The Firm meets The Last Days of Disco

This film was released in January, right after the holiday movie season, and we all know what that means, don't we kids? Actually the studios hope we don't know, because when they dump thirty million in a film like this, and they know it stinks, they hope we don't know what they know, then they hold it back to a non-peak time, dump it in a lot of theaters (which wouldn't be possible in a week when they have tons of prime product competing for space), do a media blitz, and hope to get their money back fast before everyone tells their friends that it stinks.

That strategy actually worked last year for The Skulls, but not this time. People caught on too fast.

You have to love a movie that ends, "we've given the code back to the people. Human knowledge belongs to the world." Not that I can agree or disagree with the statement, but I just kind of doubt that MGM believes it, so maybe there's just a touch of hypocrisy here. DVD's are proprietary information, both the actual DVD encryption technology and the product on the disk (the movie). Do you think they will be giving everyone a free copy of all MGM movies and soundtracks in the future? You think they'll mind if we reverse-engineer all their DVD encryption to that we can make DVD copies that everyone can download free. After all, human knowledge belongs to the world, doesn't it?

Oh, brother.

Anyway, the premise is that Ryan Philippe is to Tom Cruise as Antitrust is to the Firm. He's a fine young genius in his field who is seduced by the corporate environment, and decides to go work for a giant Microsoft clone instead of staying with his open source friends in their venture capital garage start-up. Tim Robbins plays a character who is nothing like Bill Gates except that he's the unimaginably rich, ruthless, intelligent, sloppy, potato-chip munching, software-obsessed, federally-investigated head of the largest software giant in the world, located in the Pacific Northwest. And he own a house the size of the pentagon with high tech devices and sensors everywhere. Oh, and he's donating zillions of dollars to charities and the arts. But he couldn't be Bill because of these things:

1. he mentions Bill Gates, so he can't be him

2. he lives in Portland. Everyone knows Bill is in Seattle

3. he looks nothing like him. Here is a picture of Robbins looking, as you can see, absolutely nothing like Bill Gates.

4. his name is William Notgates.

Oh, maybe I imagined that last one.

They could have made an intelligent movie about Microsoft's way of re-engineering everyone's technology into a Microsoft model that they build in to Windows, making it as difficult as possible to compete with them. I'm sure that Netscape and Lotus would have added their thoughts to the fears of the open source geeks and the Department of Justice.


Of course, the legitimate issues don't have enough emotional power for a mass audience movie. The average person doesn't care about open souce versus proprietary code, or whether Microsoft co-opts and undermines and maybe even steals from start-ups with good ideas. In fact, the average person probably thinks he benefits from the standardization imposed in a Microsoft World. In fact, maybe he's right.

So they had to take the plot and make it a murder thing. The pseudo-Microsoft doesn't just bug your house and hack your computer and hire away your top guys and steal your ideas. Nosiree, they send out some goons who hit you with tire irons and kill you, just the same way that the Robber Barons of the industrial revolution tried to crush the unions. We have a whole Molly Maguire thing going here. And then they cover up the crime by making it look like it was done by skinheads.

Oh, brother.

It seems that Ryan Philippe has developed a system that will allow NotMicrosoft to make Notgates even richer by linking up all the communication in the world. If you had this technology, and wanted to, you could make a speech and it would be simultaneously broadcast on every TV and radio channel, on every computer online, on every cell phone. And I think it will also allow you to communicate wirelessly with everyone in the world, past, present and future, or any portion of them you choose. You just have to think, "man, I'd really like to tell Le Duc Minh, of 33 Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hanoi, that he's a great guy", and Le knows your thoughts within microseconds.

The problem has never been the technology, but the bandwidth, says Notgates - modems and things are too slow to do all that transmisson in real time - but Phillippe has theoretically developed a way to compress all of mankind's words and images since the beginning of time into about a 10k file, and ....

Notgates has to have this entire project done within a week or something, so he chains everyone to their desks until they finish. Except for Philippe. He's not chained, and Notgates is really buddy-buddy and all father figure with him, you know, playing frisbee with floppy disks and stuff, but Notgates employs everyone in Philippe's life to keep an eye on him. All of Philippe's friends, the Department of Justice, everyone. (I guess the investigation of Microsoft is just a ruse to make us think that the government is not in league with Notgates.)

By the way, Original Shaft plays the Department of Justice official who tries to recruit Phillipe as a Justice department spy, but is really paid much more by Microsoft to test their employees in this manner, so they can eliminate the ones who agree to spy. At one point, Phillippe bursts into Shaft's office and says, "do you remember me? I have to talk to you". Let's imagine how one can get deep inside the D of J and burst into the room of a special investigator without the guy knowing that you're coming up to see him. Interesting concept. No wonder they can't catch Gates - er - Notgates. Phillippe apparently was able to find Shaft in the D of J building by following the sound of the sexy theme music.

But of course, no matter who Phillippe turns to, they are actually on Notgates' payroll. And Notgates will keep testing him. He'll yell at Philippe in his office, and then call in all of his spies to ask about Philippe's mood after the butt-chewing.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • Full-length director and editor commentary

  • several deleted scenes

  • documentary on the making of the film

  • music video

And ....

And I don't feel like talking about this silly movie any more.

The film is better than the critics said. It looks good, and Robbins is quite over-the-top amusing as Notgates.

Some moments are heavy-handed. When Phillippe realizes that Notgates killed his buddy to steal his code, he starts to have one of those movie montage things where he hears everyone's words coming back to him, repeated over and over.

But if it is predictable and trite, it also isn't such a bad way to pass a little time. Would have been a respectable made-for-cable film, if not quite up to being worthy of your eight bucks.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: less than two stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 1/4, Apollo 58/100.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 19% positive overall, 22% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.8, Apollo users 73/100. While these are not exactly at American Beauty levels, theatergoers didn't hate it as much as the critics.
  • With their dollars ... as I write this, has taken in $11 million domestic on a $30 million budget, and won't do much more. It has already dropped to less than half of the 2400 screens it started on, and took in less than a million last week in 1200 empty theaters (600 bucks per theater per week!).
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. Adequate, if somewhat below average, thriller.

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