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Antitrust is a trivial high-tech thriller for the geek set that simply paints by the numbers. More shamefully, it broadcasts its payoff within the first few minutes, a cardinal sin among suspense films.

While it is fun to watch its young stars continue to cut their acting teeth on this bit of fluff, there isn’t much else to sustain interest.

The Real World

Ryan rushes in: Phillippe in AntitrustAntitrust tells the tale of computer geeks graduating from college and facing the “Big Decision,” whether to sell out to Corporate America or to strike out on their own (with the assist of venture capitalists, of course). Opting for the former, Milo Hoffman (Ryan Phillippe, Cruel Intentions) accepts a position as the enterprising apprentice to a super wealthy entrepreneur at a very influential software company called NURV.

As the plot thickens, it turns out there’s more going on at NURV, located in the Pacific Northwest, than meets the eye. Simply put, they didn’t build the company to mammoth proportions by being the philanthropic institution the NURV TV spots make the company out to be.

Big Shot

Antitrust has some interesting ideas that could have been used to far greater effect. Under Peter Howitt’s (Sliding Doors) lifeless direction, however, the material lacks pizzazz. For example, a cyber painting that changes its picture based on a computer-coded list of favorite artists of the person walking into the room fails to generate the tension it should (and would, under the auspices of a Hitchcock or a Fincher) when the primary “baddie” makes his entrance. As for that “baddie,” Tim Robbins plays Gary Winston, the multi-billionaire behind NURV. Here, Robbins appears as if he’s some kind of morph stuck between Bill Gates and David Letterman. There’s even an attempt at Anthony Robbins’ style motivational speech that is so tepid, it’s baffling that Winston’s speech generates a standing ovation from some of his employees.

Speaking of Gates, the obvious allusions to the embattled, mega-rich CEO of Microsoft are scattered all over. But rather than coming across with some bite, they just sit there with all the significance of uninformed social commentary.

Antibust

Ultimately, Antitrust fails as a thriller because there isn’t enough investment in character development at the beginning. The stage needed to be set. Instead, Antitrust quickly introduces the characters and then plops them into the predicament. The film pays for that lack of setup as attempts at plot twists fail to generate the jolts they otherwise might have. All the requisite twists are there, but their execution is so haphazard, the filmmakers appear more interested in cheating than creating serious suspense. On the plus side, Claire Forlani finally has a decent role after appearing in the boring Meet Joe Black and the oddball Mystery Men. Rachael Leigh Cook is also good, but underused in a role that simply reprises the attractive geek character she conquered in She’s All That.

Finally, Phillippe is amiable enough as the young genius whose entire world falls apart. But the screenplay doesn’t have enough depth to allow him to feel too much frustration or grief for any sustained period of time.

Howitt has crafted a thriller without any real sense of thrill or suspense. Instead of being subtle or clever, it has to pummel the viewer with its techno-babble about the altruistic value of “free” software. The wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-out-of-Stanford geniuses declare on more than one occasion, “Human knowledge belongs to the world!”

Whatever.

And then there’s the ending, which, as I mentioned before, was clear from the outset. But, to help those along who are a few bytes short of a full gig, the otherwise unobtrusive score builds to an obnoxious crescendo at the finale, as if to say, “Something significant is going on right now, pay attention.”

For a better sense of suspense in a high-tech world, check out Sneakers or Enemy of the State.