Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.


As the film takes awkward steps to point out, Tim Robbins doesn't play Bill Gates in Antitrust, a techno-thriller that's surprisingly enjoyable, if not always in the manner presumably intended. Instead, he plays a different software megalomillionaire facing a government breakup. True, his snack-chip-munching character shares Gates' fashion sense and manifest-destiny-like business model, and he runs an employee compound where the soda flows like water. But it's located in Portland, not Seattle, and Robbins literally murders his competition, an accusation never leveled against Gates by even his most conspiracy-minded detractors. Robbins shares the screen with Ryan Phillippe, playing a hotly recruited Stanford techno-whiz who abandons his friends to work for Robbins' ambitious new communications project, which will apparently allow people with cell phones to speak to people with computers, and other such miracles of science. But before long, Phillippe recognizes the sinister undercurrents of the seemingly peaceful geek-trust and plunges headlong into an e-spiracy with far-reaching implications. It's not hard to see what attracted liberal activist Robbins to the part: He clearly relishes putting horns on what he perceives as a corporate villain, a sentiment heavily endorsed by screenwriter Howard Franklin's convoluted but intelligible jumble of thriller motifs, Watergate-era paranoia, and open-source propaganda. If only that wicked spirit trickled all the way down to the blandly photogenic cyberleads (Phillippe, Rachael Leigh Cook, the increasingly objectionable Claire Forlani) or to the direction of Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors). But their combined attempts to wring suspense out of keyboard tapping and Phillippe's fatal allergy to sesame seeds carries its own sort of entertainment value. Antitrust may fall squarely into the "guilty pleasure" category, but the surprisingly abundant fun in this agenda-oriented B-movie emits the pleasing odor of extra-sharp cheese.


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