The Matrix

on March 31, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
This is the Hong Kong movie America's been waiting for. Really. After repeated attempts to import the likes of Hong Kong heroes Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li and John Woo, Hollywood has finally successfully captured the Asian city's action-filmmaking style in a star named Keanu Reeves and writer-directors called the brothers Wachowski.

In an original plot that rejects the recent trend to blame our demise on hostile aliens, Larry and Andy Wachowski ("Bound") have imagined a world in which everything we think we know is really a computer-generated construct. The matrix, as it's called, keeps our minds busy while our bodies are tapped for energy by artificially intelligent beings we created. A small band of rebels, however, have realized the truth and fight day after day to free the rest of the human race. They think they've found their savior--"the one"--in a computer geek named Neo (Reeves), but he's not so sure.

In a sense, "The Matrix" is a kind of filmic comic book. Set against a neo-noir, futuristic backdrop and packed with action, the story's really about Neo's rescue, training and ultimate realization that he is, indeed, "the one."

That's not to say this actioner disappoints in the ass-kicking category. You've never seen this kind of stylized action-brought stateside by Hong Kong fight coordinator Yuen Wo Ping ("Drunken Master")--this side of the pond. After a clever moment in which Neo sets off a metal detector, is asked to remove his watch or any jewelry and opens his trench coat to reveal no less than four pairs of guns, there's an extended fight sequence in which he and sidekick Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) single-handedly blast their way through a phalanx of security guards. The matrix, you see, is merely a mental projection of what you think the world should be. Rules like gravity can be bent or broken, if you believe they can.

So Neo and Trinity dodge bullets in slow motion while their enemies shake them off in a blur. They pump out clip after clip of ammunition, the empty shells clattering to the floor like rain. They run up walls. They fly through the air. They use kung fu in hand-to-hand combat. (Yes, Keanu does kung fu. But what's great about this script is that the Wachowskis knew that Reeves doing kung fu--with Laurence Fishburne, no less--would be funny and went with it anyway, playing it up for comic effect and even plugging in a patented Reeves "Whoa.") Beneath "The Matrix's" comic book artistry, stylized fight choreography, gothic sets and washed-out green tints, however, lies a classic Christ allegory with a simple mantra: believe in yourself.

Morpheus (Fishburne), the legendary rebel leader, continually encourages Neo to open his mind, to believe that he is "the one" here to save the world. And it's not until Neo buys this argument that he really starts to bust booty. Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano. Written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. Produced by Joel Silver. A Warner Bros. release. Sci-fi. Rated R for sci-fi violence. Running time: 135 min.

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