Antitrust review

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Do you know what the main problem with a thriller centred on computer programmers is? It's that footage of people typing just isn't sexy. Make your lead geek as good-looking as possible, throw in an implausibly pretty girlfriend or add an even more unlikely elfin fellow programmer (Rachael Leigh Cook) if you wish. It makes zero difference if the core of your story still centres on folks tippity-tapping away at a keyboard. It's about as cinematically exciting as watching coffins warp.

AntiTrust manages a few bursts of conventional excitement (footchases, attempted killings, a little breaking and entering, that sort of guff), but they're never enough to get the film speeding along. Even if you forget the immense typing-drag factor, the whole thing is handicapped by a hugely dated feel and a crippling lack of originality.

The Firm did exactly this whole young-employee-discovers-menacing-true-face-of-chirpy-happy-corporation plot eight years ago. And for all its ripped-from-the-headlines pretensions (the title refers to the US antitrust hearings investigating Microsoft's computer software monopoly), the "multinationals are BAD" paranoia is pretty much mined-out now. Throw in the fact that its population of grunge-styled geeks are lagging about two steps behind current trends and this wannabe contemporary thriller feels like yesterday's news.

The Way Of The Gun should have marked Ryan Phillippe's step up from dopey teen extravaganzas, and both he and Leigh Cook look like they can't be arsed with this nonsense. Meanwhile, Tim Robbins - a quality performer when he can be bothered - turns in a lazy caricature of Bill Gates.

Sliding Doors director Peter Howitt may have had to throw in a few gags to keep the libel lawyers at bay ("Doesn't Bill Gates have one of those?"/"Yes, but his is nowhere near as advanced") but there's never any doubt who this soft-spoken, checked-shirt-wearing computer tycoon with the global software monopoly is meant to be. The trouble is, Robbins has spent all his time nailing the übernerd's physical tics and none perfecting an actual character. The result is an off-the-peg supervillain as uninspired as the rest of the film.

Stale, half-hearted and slow, this is a forgettable techno-thriller to file alongside The Net and Hackers. Director Howitt has gotta learn that it takes more than in-front-of-the-camera cameos to turn a journeyman helmer into another Hitchcock.

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