July 24, 2019

Plot nearly ruins visually stunning ‘Matrix’

THE MATRIX, written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. Running time: 135 minutes. Rated R (for language and violence).

At the risk of sounding paranoid, I fear that the world as we know it is a hoax, a sham, a glimmering backdrop that exists only to divert us from the ugly truth of what lurks behind the backdrop.

It gets worse. Apparently, we aren’t who we think we are — we’re slaves controlled by an evil, Pentium-crushing computer that runs our lives in ways that would make Ted Kaczynski either break into hives or feel terrifically vindicated.

But before you begin bearing signs that read “The End.Is@Near.com,” you should know that all of this unnecessary paranoia is being driven by “The Matrix,” the Wachowski Brothers’ first film since their excellent thriller “Bound.”

Visually stunning and at times genuinely harrowing, “The Matrix” is an idea movie nearly ruined by its ridiculously complex plot. That’s bad news for audiences, who must pick through the rubble of the film’s literary references, New Age ideas and slang to fully grasp what’s unfolding on screen, but good news for Keanu Reeves, the film’s star, who is actually saved by the plot: Indeed, the film’s dense, messy writing diverts attention from his severe limitations as an actor.

Buckle up — the plot goes something like this: Reeves is Neo, a computer hacker-techno-messiah anointed by the modestly named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the leather-clad Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to help save the remnants of authentic humanity from the Matrix, which, as Morpheus archly puts it, “is the wool that’s been pulled over your eyes to keep you from the truth!”

Morpheus believes that Neo is The One — the only person who can stop the subverted human beings from wreaking more havoc on the world than they already have. Putting Neo through a painful rebirth and a crash course in kung fu (beautifully choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping), the pair join forces with others to free humankind by destroying the Matrix.

To reveal more would be as unfair as the film’s ending, which cheapens all that came before it by reducing the film and its ideas to a fantastic fist fight.

Paralleling the recent film “Virus,” “The Matrix” suggests that human beings are the real virus destroying Earth, yet, like “Virus,” it never fully explores that question. With all of its considerable dogma and rhetoric, the film certainly pretends to be more than entertainment, but it’s ultimately just a poseur, giving itself over time and again to the easier explosion, the cliched gunfight, the clever bit of computer-generated effects.

It should have shot for more. Grade: C

Video of the Week

LIVING OUT LOUD, written and directed by Richard LaGravenese. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated R (for language, drug use, sexual content).

The real pleasure of Richard LaGravenese’s “Living Out Loud” rests not just in its performances by Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito and Queen Latifah, but in how the film connects the woefully disconnected to their unexpected soul mates.

This very good film is about life’s universal pitfalls — heartache, loss and loneliness in an increasingly indifferent world — and how three people of vastly different backgrounds find a unique sort of solace in each other’s company.

LaGravenese, who wrote “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Beloved,” and “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” opens his film with immediate conflict: Judith (Hunter), a thin, nervous wreck of a New York socialite, nails her wealthy husband (Martin Donovan) with the hard truth of his infidelity — he’s cheating on her with a younger woman and Judith knows it.

Ending the marriage, Judith eventually leaps across the socioeconomic divide by tentatively reaching out to Pat (DeVito), an elevator operator at her Fifth Avenue co-op who is just as lonely and as desperate for affection as she.

But their budding relationship is no easy setup for lightweight, romantic comedy — LaGravenese skirts that cliche by having something else in mind that’s more poignant, concrete and reflective of real life: a film that explores the roots of human need and the life-altering changes that can sometimes accompany it.

With Latifah superb as the smoky, street-smart songstress who doles out sound advice to Judith, “Living Out Loud” is an out-loud pleasure that may lack cohesion, but makes up for it with a story line that’s as honest and as soulful as Latifah’s suprisingly strong voice. Grade: B+

Christopher Smith’s film reviews appear each Monday in the Bangor Daily News. Each week on WLBZ’s “News Center 5:30 Today” and “News Center Tonight,” he reviews feature films (Tuesdays) and what’s new and worth renting at video stores (Thursdays).

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